Bill would limit gag orders to 7 days

Proposed bill would limit gag orders prohibiting journalists from publishing names of those named in court cases, investigations to 7 days.

July 26, 2011 17:02
2 minute read.
The Knesset adjourning for its spring break.

Knesset session 311. (photo credit: Courtesy)

The Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee debated on Tuesday a bill that would change the current system of gag orders.

The bill, proposed by MK Nachman Shai (Kadima), would impose a limit of seven days on court orders prohibiting the media from reporting the names of suspects in police investigations or of those named in court cases.

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Within that seven days, the court would conduct a hearing regarding the gag order, and in certain cases would be empowered to extend the order.

Currently, courts can issue unrestricted gag orders.

The courts issue approximately 300 gag orders every year, Shai said.

The Tel Aviv District Court issued such a gag order on Tuesday, preventing journalists from publishing the name or identity of the 20-year-old man convicted of murdering attorney Anat Pliner.

Shai said the court orders can be problematic.

“There is disrespect for the gag orders in the sense that the Israeli media obey the orders but anyone can find the information [about a person’s identity] in the foreign media or on the Internet,” he said.

MK Shlomo Molla (Kadima) said that gag orders should be “proportional,” in order to safeguard national security and protect the public’s right to know.

MK Zehava Gal-On (Meretz) opposed the bill, and said that it is intended to “prevent the names of public figures who are suspects from being published.”

Representatives from the media, including Channel 2’s attorney Yisgav Nicodemus, slammed the legislation, which they say will harm the public’s right to know.

Under current law, every journalist has the right to appeal against gag orders.

In the corruption trial of former prime minister Ehud Olmert in the Jerusalem District Court earlier this month, journalists in the courtroom expressed their objection to the gag order placed on publishing the names of two people who had donated to Olmert’s campaign fund.

The committee also debated draft legislation that would prohibit the publication of a suspect’s name for 48 hours after that person is informed he is under investigation.

Attorney Yifat Rave of the Ministry of Justice said that the 48-hour gag would not apply in exceptional circumstances, including if the suspect agreed to publication. A senior police officer would also be empowered to authorize the publication of a suspect’s name, in situations where that suspect posed a danger to the public.

The court could also permit the publication of a suspect’s name, if it were deemed to be in the public interest.

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