Jerusalem District police called an Army Radio reporter in for questioning last week after he published a report that criticized acting mayor and city councilman Meir Turgeman, an incident that sparked new fears about police treatment of the press under Commissioner Insp.- Gen. Roni Alsheich.
Last week, Army Radio reporter Michael Shemesh published a report headlined, “Deputy mayor of Jerusalem suspected of inappropriate conduct.” The report stated that the city of Jerusalem’s legal council ordered Turgeman to not take part in hearings involving businessman and city council member Rami Levy, attorney Shlomo Deri (Interior Minister Arye Deri’s brother), and real estate developer David Kleiner, due to concerns of a conflict of interest.
Following the report, Turgeman submitted a harassment complaint to police, and within hours an investigator from the Jerusalem District contacted Shemesh, calling him to report for questioning under caution.
Shemesh refused, and according to a report in The- Marker, the officer threatened to arrest Shemesh if he did not show up. Shemesh continued to refuse, and the matter was only dropped after Army Radio officials got involved, the report stated.
Turgeman said on Wednesday that Shemesh harassed him and that he would also submit a libel suit.
The investigator’s behavior was in a violation of the protocol for police questioning of journalists. According to police procedure, in the event that the police have to question a journalist, the head of the investigations department of the relevant police station must send a request to the head of the police investigations branch, who should decide whether or not to contact the State Attorney’s Office or the head of the Israel Press Council.
The officer must also contact the police commissioner.
In this case however, Shemesh was called in for questioning within hours, without the investigator moving up the command chain.
Arik Bachar, the head of the Israel Press Council said in a comment sent to Walla News on Wednesday that the council would meet with police representatives to ensure that they won’t violate procedures for questioning journalists.
The Israeli Journalists Association said in response to the report that they condemn the police calling in Shemesh for questioning, and that “unfortunately, time after time the police shows that they do not understand in depth the role of the press, and operate in a way that harms the ability of journalists to serve the Israeli public.”
News of the incident sparked outrage among Israeli journalists on Tuesday night. In a closed WhatsApp group run by the Israel Police that includes dozens of crime reporters from across the country, police spokeswoman Merav Lapidot was bombarded with questions from a series of veteran reporters demanding an explanation.
Lapidot said that a complaint was submitted against Shemesh and the investigator contacted him in order to check its particulars, without first obtaining the proper approval from his superiors.
Once superior officers found out that a journalist had been called in for questioning, they canceled the order, Lapidot said. She ordered that the incident was a case of “grave personal error,” and that police would apply lessons from the incident. Asked if the officer in question had been punished, Lapidot said “the matter is being dealt with.”
Alsheich served for more than 25 years in the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) before being sworn in as head of the police in December.
Since then crime reporters have complained about a worsening relationship between the press and the force, with many reporters alleging that Alsheich has imported the Shin Bet culture of secrecy into his new job.
As the new commissioner Alsheich has given scant comments to the press and has declared that he would stop all leaks from the organization.
There has also been a noticeable drop in conference call briefings with reporters and press conferences by police commanders since he began his term.