Any murder is reprehensible. A child’s murder inevitably arouses even greater
emotion, and when such a murder occurs in a school – where safety is assumed –
it is all the more shocking.
Thus when 13-year-old Tair Rada was found
slashed to death in her Katzrin junior high nearly four years ago, the entire
country understandably grew alarmed.
The ensuing investigation and trial
generated a media feeding-frenzy, replete with alternative theories, second-
guessing of police hypotheses and independent investigative ventures by
After they unanimously convicted handyman Roman Zadorov of the
murder on Tuesday, the three Nazareth District Court judges issued caustic
criticism of the role of the press in the affair. The media was accused of bias,
manipulation, stirring up sensation and controversy, fabricating headlines and
grabbing ratings. A harsh charge sheet, indeed.
The court left little
doubt. It fully trusted the prosecution’s version and ascribed ostensible
uncertainties to doubts sown tendentiously by “irresponsible
In fact, however, neither the judicial system, nor the
police, nor the press can afford to place themselves above
SCANDAL-MONGERING isn’t unique to this case, of course, though
the nature of the crime contributed to the commotion and the lurid hype. But in
this particular instance of “trial-by-the-press,” it wasn’t the defendant who
was on the receiving end of what the court all-too-plainly considered to be
inordinate and misdirection journalistic attention, but the quality of police
work – a field where media criticism has proved thoroughly justified in some
The impact of the media on due process is a weighty
concern, especially when the reputation of the accused and the right to a fair
trial are compromised. Here, certain reporters were focusing on the
law-enforcement authorities themselves. Whether this was done with mercenary
intent, as the judges opined, is moot.
The ideal of a trial conducted
exclusively in court was never practicable and, in many cases, thankfully
Back in 1898, journalist Emile Zola exposed the injustice meted out
to Alfred Dreyfus via his open-letter “J’accuse” on the front page of the Paris
More recently and locally newspapers were instrumental in
helping overturn questionable convictions, like that of Amos Baranes for the
1974 murder of Rahel Heller. Seemingly meddlesome reporters had done a great
deal of good by getting on police nerves.
That’s not to say that crass
exploitation by the media isn’t objectionable. Unfortunately, however, reality
doesn’t provide us with clear, demarcation lines between legitimate defense
against injustice and obstruction of justice. An extremely delicate,
hard-tomaintain balance is mandated, which demands extra circumspection and
self-control by reporters – and more so by responsible editors – in a era when
conscientiousness isn’t a commonplace commodity.
freedom-of-expression catchphrases are, nobody wants a muzzled press. Tarring
the media with one brush is counterproductive. Criticism of journalistic conduct
must be specific, leveled in real time and with the realization that,
particularly nowadays, it’s pointless for law-enforcement to expect a sanitized
BUT IT’s too facile to focus only on the
press. The police itself is hardly innocent. It and the prosecution are serially
the most egregious of leakers. Often we learn of what went on during
interrogations while suspects are still being grilled. In the Rada case, the
police has only itself to blame for the prodigious innuendo exacerbated by its
one-sided leaks and paucity of supporting physical evidence.
In the final
analysis, the buck stops with the police.
In this country, when police
investigators deem someone guilty, odds are that person won’t get off:
Incredibly, in serious felony trials, our judges accept the police premise 98.9
percent of the time. This puts special onus on policemen and prosecutors to
clean up their acts.
Foremost, this should mean less reliance on
In the 2003 kidnap/murder of soldier Oleg Scheichet, the
police arrested several Arab youths, actually conducted a “re-enactment”
crime and was well on the way to securing a full conviction, when the
killers were inadvertently apprehended with the dead soldier’s
Confessions can be notoriously unreliable. They can be forced –
obtained by unacceptable psychological ploys, pressure, entrapment or
Too little weight is unfortunately placed in our system on corroborating
physical evidence. Circumstantial evidence, when properly gathered and
interpreted, is most trustworthy.
Invariably, though, it entails hard
work, rather than “leaning” on suspects.