Freedom of the press is one of the most important principles of any democratic society. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects freedom of expression and freedom of the press, and the United Nations marks May 3 as World Press Freedom Day. In Israel, the Supreme Court has created a series of protections for journalists and the media.
But in recent years, and especially over the last three months, Israel’s democracy has been under assault by government officials and corrupt politicians. There are two aspects to freedom of the press – enabling journalists to criticize the government and protecting their sources. Journalistic freedom is undermined every day when the media is attacked by the prime minister, members of his family and their supporters. And now, protection of their sources is also being put to the test.
A few days ago, the police’s Lahav 433 unit arrested independent journalist Lior Kopelevitz, better known as Eishton. He runs an independent blog where he publishes investigative reports. He was arrested on suspicion of harassing the Finance Ministry’s former accountant general, Michal Abadi-Boiangiu, who gave information to the police when it was investigating corruption in Israel’s purchase of submarines.
According to police, Eishton went to her home, presented himself as a Mossad operative and asked her questions about the matter. After she filed a complaint, Kopelevitz and his life partner were arrested. They were released subject to restrictions after being questioned.
But police investigators didn’t make do with that. They also confiscated computers and documents from his Tel Aviv home. Eishton is investigating the connection between the submarines case and the plan the government approved for Israel’s natural gas fields. During this investigation, he collected documents and spoke with people involved in both events. Thus the police’s decision to confiscate and read these documents grossly violated the journalistic privilege that he and his source enjoy.
The next day, the Rishon Letzion Magistrate’s Court rejected Eishton’s request that the documents and computers be returned to him. “A journalist has immunity regarding his sources, but he has no immunity to commit crimes,” Judge Einat Ron wrote.
When police confiscate a journalist’s documents, the media’s ability to do its job properly is dealt a mortal blow. Who would want to serve as a source if confidentiality isn’t guaranteed and can easily be violated?
- Don’t Collaborate in the Politics of Distraction
- U.S., U.K. and Israeli Democracies Paralyzed by Delusion: ‘It Can Never Happen Here’
- Israeli Posts Photo of Netanyahu. Cop Arrives at His Home, Tells Him to Take It Down
The confidentiality of journalistic sources can be violated only when there’s no other choice and when a serious crime like murder, rape or espionage is being investigated. That isn’t the case with Eishton. The attorney general must order the police to release the material they confiscated from him. And the court has an obligation to protect freedom of the press as well.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.