The Gag Order Farce

Judges should make sure to lift gag orders before they become so useless that it's embarrassing.

Haaretz Editorial
Haaretz Editorial

The case of the “famous singer” and the underage girls, which included suspicions of pimping, statutory rape and drug-pushing, will continue to be a focus of public attention, especially given the alleged involvement of singer Eyal Golan. But the case once again highlighted the problematic use of gag orders. These orders are routinely issued at the police’s request, both to prevent the disruption of the investigation and the coordination of testimony via messages sent through the media, and to protect the dignity and privacy of people who have not yet been detained for questioning.

In the current case, the gag order became a farce, because even as the media were forbidden to publish Golan’s name and compelled to refer to him merely as a “famous singer,” information about the suspect’s identity was flowing freely on social media networks. Within a few hours after this case was first reported, it was hard to find anyone with an Internet connection who didn’t know who stood at its center.

This isn’t the first time a gag order has become a source of embarrassment. In the case of the murders at the Barnoar gay youth center, police agreed to lift the gag order and give the media details about the suspects and the investigation, only to discover a few hours later that at the defense’s request, the judge had renewed the order – after the details had already been broadcast.

The technological and social changes of the last few years necessitate a change in the way gag orders are used, even when they are just and necessary from both a moral and a professional standpoint. In the modern age, in which newspapers, radio and television stations and even Internet news sites aren’t the only sources of information, and in which Facebook and Twitter turn every media consumer into a news producer, the police and the courts have no ability to disseminate gag orders to the entire public, and certainly no ability to enforce them.

The judges must therefore reexamine these orders more frequently – especially in cases with a high potential to ignite the public’s interest. They should consider whether to renew these orders on a daily basis, in light of circumstances and developments. Such a step would prevent this social and legal tool from becoming devoid of all meaning.

Eyal Golan. Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

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