In the 1998 movie film Deep Impact, the US treasury secretary, played by James
Cromwell, attempts to persuade a reporter to refrain from investigating a story.
He turns to her and says: “Look, I know you’re just a reporter, but you used to
be a person, right?” Investigative reporting presents ethical and moral
challenges. The reporter’s instinct that someone must be guilty pushes her or
him to try and prove the culprit’s offenses.
Material is typically fed to
the reporter through sources and leaks and is often anonymous. The reporter must
judge whether the information is reliable or not, and even if convinced that a
crime took place, where are the limits? Is the journalist above the law? In
2009, in the United States, State Department adviser Stephen Kim allegedly
revealed information concerning North Korea to Fox News’ chief Washington
correspondent, James Rosen.
Rosen’s movements in and out of the State
Department were then tracked by the FBI, which traced the timing of his calls,
and obtained a search warrant to read his emails. US law makes it a criminal act
to publish classified information revealing government cryptography or
Did Rosen do the right thing? He felt
compelled to fulfill his professional calling; do we praise him for this? Is he
a role model or a criminal? Another case is that of former UK News of the
World’s Dan Evans. He was charged last month with conspiring to intercept
communications (a.k.a. phone hacking) of well-known people. The phone hacking
scandal of two years ago resulted in some 60 journalists arrested with 27 having
been charged and 12 cleared. Was Evans a crusader, seeking information and
upholding the public’s right to know, or was he a criminal? Israel has its own
The journalists involved often justify their actions by
charging that their investigative abilities are hampered by those “evil forces
of fascism who have taken over our democracy.”
They appeal to the court
of public opinion to try and evade conviction for their infractions.
most recent case is that of Haaretz’s Uri Blau and Shai Grinberg.
became notorious through the Anat Kam affair. He received classified IDF
information which was taken from the army without authorization by soldier Anat
Kam. Kam, who is not a reporter, was convicted for espionage and providing
confidential information without authorization.
She was sent to
Blau, in July 2012, accepted a plea bargain and was sentenced to
four months of community service. But it would seem Blau had no remorse,
believing that the message society was giving him was that indeed the journalist
should at times take the law into his own hands, which leads us directly to a
story that is now unfolding.
BLAU AND his investigator Shai Grinberg were
indicted two weeks ago for trespassing. According to police, they illegally
entered a religious hostel for young girls in distress.
This story has
its beginnings in a lengthy May 27, 2011, report by the due about what they
described as “the right-wing organization Lehava, noted for its vehement
anti-assimilation views... many of its members are disciples of Meir Kanhane.
Yet Hemla [Mercy], a group closely linked to Lehava, receives state funding for
its rehabilitation work with Jewish women.” Blau and Grinberg claim that “the
heads of the association [Hemla] are outright Kahanists.”
The topic of
their investigation was Hemla’s activities in trying to rehabilitate Jewish
girls who were romantically involved with Arabs. They quoted the Israel
Broadcasting Authority’s legal commentator Moshe Negbi, who said, “There’s no
question that opposition to assimilation is a legitimate religious and even
Zionist viewpoint, in the context of freedom of expression. But if you carry it
out by means of incitement to racism, by violent means or threats, then it
crosses the criminal line.”
The very long article in fact does not
contain a shred of evidence linking the Hemla organization to any illegal
activity, incitement and whatnot.
Blau was frustrated because he was not
allowed into the hostel, was not able to interview the inmates and also
stonewalled by the authorities.
But there was a more sinister reason for
Blau’s frustration. According to the police, Blau and Grinberg entered the Hemla
hostel illegally and filmed various rooms (which were empty). They did not know
that Hemla’s security cameras had recorded their activities. In a taped
telephone interview shortly after the break-in, Grinberg claimed they did not
move around in the building but just entered to see if anyone was there and then
The video tape was posted on the Internet, and it is
obvious she was lying.
Blau and Grinberg will probably claim in their
defense that their activities are the norm of “good” investigative journalism in
Israel. In 2006, then-general Elazar Stern leaked data from the personal file of
soldier Hanan’el Dayan to then-journalist Yair Lapid. Dayan, in protest against
the expulsion from Gaza, refused to shake hands with the IDF’s commanding
officer Dan Halutz during the ceremony for outstanding soldiers at the
President’s Residence, raising Stern’s wrath.
Dayan went to court and
Stern was fined NIS 31,500. The journalist, Lapid, went scot-free. He is today
our finance minister, while Stern is a Knesset Member belonging to Justice
Minister Tzipi Livni’s Hatnua party.
In June 2006, Israel Broadcasting
Authority journalist Benny Lis illegally opened the door of the Adler family’s
private residence in Chavat Maon and filmed inside. This footage was then
broadcast in a news report on the IBA’s Channel 1 TV. We complained to the IBA
at that time, noting the illegality of Lis’s actions. The IBA defended Lis’s
actions. We filed a complaint with police but Lis was not even called in for
Last July, Channel 10 reporter Doron Herman disguised
himself as a religious soldier and entered the Mea She’arim quarter of Jerusalem
in an attempt to provoke a violent response from the local residents.
is illegal in Israel to disguise oneself as a soldier.
Herman was not
fishing for information like Blau and Grinberg, he was trying to provoke a
potentially violent scene in an attempt to get a “good” story. However, the
executive director of Channel 10, Golan Yochpaz, had no regrets. In his response
letter, he stated: “Part of the journalistic spirit of our society is the
attempt to evaluate and expose issues, failures and injustices. At times, to
expose issues of public interest, one must also use disguise.”
of the Second Authority for TV and Radio, Dr. Ilan Avisar, accepted Yochpaz’s
defense. The journalist, Herman, got off scot-free.
Evidently, the norm
in Israel is that journalists are allowed to break the law. Blau’s real failure
is not that he broke the law, but that in doing so he was not able to expose
anything wrong at the Hemla organization.
Had he succeeded, he might even
have been elected to the honor roll of the Ometz organization or the Movement
for Quality Government.
The authors are, respectively, vice chairman and
chairman of Israel’s Media Watch (www.imw.org.il)