Meretz Party chairwoman MK Zehava Gal-On on Wednesday proposed a bill to remove what she views as undue constraints the law imposes on journalists from uncovering illegalities and corruption in government.
According to Gal-On, the current law “suffers from an anomaly that has lasted for years” and pits the journalistic ethical requirement of exposing and reporting to the public illegality and corruption against overly broad laws designed to protect national security secrets and documents from being divulged.
Gal-On did not quarrel with the law when it protected genuine national security secrets and defined and provided for the punishment of people who reveal them as a spies.
Rather, she said that the law should distinguish between cases where security interests are involved and those where illegalities and corruption are being shielded from the public under the guise of national security.
The proposed law comes against the backdrop of the state’s prosecution of Haaretz reporter Uri Blau.
Many journalists, including the Jerusalem Journalists Association, have loudly protested Blau’s arrest, even demonstrating outside the Justice Ministry in the capital over Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein’s decision to indict Blau.
Weinstein has announced that he will charge Blau with possession of classified military documents, which he received from former OC Central Command secretary Anat Kamm. The decision follows a 2008 story in which Blau, using leaked documents, revealed that the military planned in advance to kill Palestinian leaders and fighters, but then passed their deaths off as mishaps during “failed” attempts to arrest them.
Blau is to be charged under the Penal Code with aggravated espionage, which stipulates that obtaining, collecting, preparing, recording or keeping secret information without authorization, but without intent to harm state security, is punishable by seven years in prison.
The attorney-general explained that before deciding to indict the reporter, he had taken into account “all the relevant considerations,” including the need to preserve the character of a free press and allow the media to carry out its essential role in ensuring the public’s right to know.
However, Gal-On suggested that the current law puts journalists in a catch- 22 situation, caught between doing their job and committing a crime.
Her proposed law would declare journalistic conduct that was within the confines of official journalistic ethics of exposing illegality and corruption to be outside the definition of illegal conduct under the national security protection laws.
In the future, if a journalist like Blau exposed an illegality or an act of corruption by divulging documents that the law would otherwise prohibit anyone from sharing with the public, the journalist would not have committed a crime because his conduct would be within the new exception to the law.
Gal-On also said that the proposed law would protect journalists from civil defamation lawsuits for their actions where it was found that the journalist had acted according to journalistic ethics.
Joanna Paraszczuk and Ruth Eglash contributed to this story.