Despite building significant new support and momentum recently, and amid significant confusion, the new bill for revolutionizing the state’s handling of gag orders failed to pass the Ministerial Committee on Legislation on Sunday.
Labor MK Nachman Shai had resumed a push on the bill with Labor MK Merav Michaeli joining him, following heavy criticism of gag orders in cases of public interest, including those of Anat Kamm, Prisoner X, and singer Eyal Golan.
Sources indicated that Attorney- General Yehuda Weinstein is still in favor of reforming the state’s current practice on the issue in some fashion, but implied that the shape of the reform still needs work.
A spokesman for Justice Minister Tzipi Livni explained that Weinstein opposed the bill, since he and a state committee had approved new internal rules on the issue which were only now being implemented.
Clearly disappointed with the vote, Shai responded that he no longer believes that the Justice Ministry and the Israel Police would back the bill, having been led to believe that they would support the bill this time.
Previously, Shai had told The Jerusalem Post last week that the current legal regime for issuing gag orders is “too broad and overbearing.”
He added that, “Today we are living in a different world, where often the gag orders are not relevant, since leaks through the Internet happen so easily. Our laws cannot ignore reality.”
The Labor MK emphasized that overuse of gag orders also conflicted with the principle of freedom of information and the public’s right to know about important developments.
The Public Security Ministry declined to comment.
The bill would have required a hearing within seven days of certain gag orders going into effect. Also, it would have required courts to almost immediately revisit the possibility of voiding a gag order, once it was brought to the court’s attention that the information intended for protection was already exposed by informal media.
The bill would have given a representative of the press formal standing to argue for the removal of gag orders at any hearings on the issue.
He said that the current law made sense in an historical time period where, “if you stopped five big media outlets from publicizing something” you could keep the information secret.
But he said the Kamm, Prisoner X, and Golan embarrassments exposed how inapplicable that concept is today.
Shai had believed that the new bill had more of a chance to pass now than in past attempts, as he thought that both the police and the attorney- general backed the initiative. He said the police already have new internal rules directing the reduction of the use of gag-orders, but they’ve been ignoring them.
He said that part of the idea of the bill was to give stronger teeth to a general principle, which seemed to be otherwise ignored.
Shai said the bill would not have reduced protection of identity in cases involving rape victims, minors, or other cases where an individual is part of a protected class of persons.