'Yediot Ahronot' ordered to pay libel damages to Im Tirtzu

The Tel Aviv Magistrates Court ordered Yediot Ahronot to pay NIS 125,000 in damages and legal fees.

The law courts in Tel Aviv (photo credit: CREATIVE COMMONS)
The law courts in Tel Aviv
(photo credit: CREATIVE COMMONS)
Journalist Sima Kadmon and the newspaper Yediot Ahronot were ordered by Tel Aviv's Magistrates Court on Tuesday to pay NIS 105,000 in libel damages and NIS 20,000 in legal fees to Im Tirztu.
The Zionist NGO filed the suit in 2017 after the paper published two articles falsely accusing it of falsifying a letter sent to the sport and culture minister at the time. One of the articles named Im Tirtzu's spokesperson, accusing him personally of fabricating the letter.
The letter in question was written by 28 bereaved families from the Choosing Life Forum of Bereaved Families, lodging their objection to the three-part documentary Megiddo, which aired on YES Documentary in April 2017. The documentary followed the lives of Palestinian terrorist prisoners being held at the Megiddo Prison, and their Israeli guards.
Director Itzik Lerner was given unprecedented access to the prison, living alongside prisoners and guards for a year. However, expressing their disappointment that the government had helped fund the documentary and allowed the director access, the families wrote: "there was no mention of our suffering, of the bereaved families who lost their most precious due to terrorist attacks.”
Yediot Ahronot refused to issue a retraction of the two articles by senior journalist Sima Kadmon and Raz Shechnik, accusing Im Tirtzu and their spokesman of fabricating the letter.
Handing down the court's verdict, Judge Ronit Pinchuk-Alt criticized Yediot Ahronot for the articles in question.
"[The evidence] leads to an unequivocal conclusion that these were defamatory publications, which were intended to humiliate the claimant in the eyes of the people, and to make them the subject of hate, contempt or ridicule and to disgrace them and even harm the career of" the Im Tirtzu spokesman, she said.
Of Sima Kadmon's contribution, the judge said: "A veteran journalist failed in that she published facts without contacting those who would be hurt by the publication, and if she would have contacted them for a reply, she would have discovered the things that she missed."
Pinchuk-Alt also criticized Shechnik, saying: "Mr. Shechnik did not do the most basic things in these circumstances, which is contacting 'Im Tirtzu' and its spokesperson and asking for their reply before publishing the article. This is a basic and minimal action that Yediot Ahronot had to do in order to claim good faith."
Im Tirtzu CEO Matan Peleg welcomed the verdict, saying: "every media outlet needs to know that adhering to the truth is one of the most important aspects of a democratic state. Im Tirtzu will continue to accompany the Choosing Life Forum of Bereaved Families in their fight against terrorism."
Attorney Guy Tsabary, who represented Im Tirtzu, said "the court issued a clear message that freedom of speech cannot be used as an excuse to publish false information. The practice of publishing information without first requesting a response from those affected is a condemnable phenomenon that must be uprooted."