Editorial |

A Law to Criminalize Journalists Is an Affront to Freedom of the Press

Haaretz.
Haaretz Editorial
MK Gilad Kariv in the Knesset in June.
MK Gilad Kariv in the Knesset in June.Credit: Knesset Spokesperson's Office
Haaretz.
Haaretz Editorial

It turns out that efforts to undermine freedom of the press aren’t the exclusive province of the rightist parties in the opposition. Parties in the governing coalition also want to restrict the public’s right to know.

MK Eitan Ginzburg (Kahol Lavan), with the support of the chairman of the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, MK Gilad Kariv (Labor), wants to pass a law at lightning speed to prevent the media from photographing suspects anywhere on court premises. That would alter the current practice, which allows the media to photograph people being brought for bail hearings if the case has public importance.

But Ginzburg is going even further than that by seeking to include criminal penalties in the bill. It states that publishing a photo of a suspect in court will constitute a violation of privacy and carry a maximum penalty of five years in jail.

This is a direct and blatant attack on freedom of the press. Ginzburg and Kariv don’t want the public to see elected officials and civil servants who are suspected of corruption being brought to court for bail hearings – or, for example, suspected sex offenders, although publishing their pictures could lead to additional complaints against them. The bill doesn’t distinguish between someone suspected of a minor assault and someone accused of corruption or murder.

Admittedly, it’s disturbing that pictures of people who were arrested remain online and will come up in every future search even if the cases against them are ultimately closed. The right to be forgotten requires an in-depth public discussion, but not at the price of preventing press coverage and photographs from the courts.

It’s not clear why Ginzburg and Kariv have opted to turn journalists into criminals instead of focusing on the battle against corruption, oversight of the law enforcement system and further legislation against organized crime. It’s also not clear why Kariv, in a highly unusual move, decided not to invite representatives of media outlets and press associations to the committee’s first hearing on the bill.

Kariv would do better to devote the efforts of the important committee he chairs to advancing laws that truly help the public, instead of investing time and energy in undermining the principle of transparency, freedom of the press and media operations while also protecting people suspected of even the gravest crimes by preventing their disgrace from being shown in public. It must be hoped that this bill will be removed from the agenda immediately.

The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.

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