MKs debate barring publication of suspects' names

A bill that passed its initial committee reading Monday has already succeeded in rallying numerous legislative heavy-hitters to offer their opinions, with heavy questions such as freedom of the press and the right to privacy at stake. The bill, which would forbid the publication of names of crime suspects, as well as investigative details prior to the delivery of an indictment, will likely face the Knesset vote in February after passing the Ministerial Legislation Committee Sunday evening. Committee Chairman and Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann was not present during the debate. Ministers Ami Ayalon, Meir Sheetrit and Isaac Herzog - as well as Public Security Minister Avi Dichter - all opposed the measure. The bill also passed its preliminary vote in the Knesset Legislative Committee on Monday, by a vote of 29 to seven with MKs Shelly Yacimovich (Labor) and Zehava Gal-On (Meretz) among the opposition. Passing the ministerial committee vote was a serious boost for the proposal, meaning it had - at least formally - the support of the coalition. The proposal was brought forward by Yisrael Beitenu MKs Robert Elitov and Yosef Shagal, but is far from the first of such proposals to be brought before the Knesset. A similar legislation was proposed in the 16th Knesset, but did not succeed. "Freedom of the press and the right of the public to know are supreme values in democratic society but, with that, the right to privacy cannot be ignored and there is a need to balance between these rights," the two legislators wrote. "Recently, crime sections of papers have become more similar to gossip sections - and in many cases … it has become the practice to publish without any restrictions on names. Sometimes, it is a matter of names of people who are completely unassociated with the crime that they allegedly committed, but the damage caused to them and to their reputation is great, and they are entitled to a defense." The Association for Civil Rights in Israel expressed concern Monday that the law could seriously curb freedom of the press and the public's right to receive information. The Movement for Quality Government filed a request with Friedmann to exclude political figures and organized crime suspects from the relative protection of such anonymity. There are two loopholes contained within the current proposal - the first, that a court can remove the gag on the press if the publication is necessary for the advancement of the investigation, or if the court determined that public interest supercedes the specific suspect's right to privacy. On the other side, defense attorneys have heralded the proposed law as a welcome protection of the reputations of suspects - who have yet to be convicted, or even charged, with any crimes. The Public Defender's Office, however, expressed its support for the proposal. Chief Public Defender Inbal Rubenstein drafted a position paper that she submitted to the ministerial Committee Sunday in which she condemned what she termed the current "symbiosis between police and the media" and argued that the proposed law was a viable alternative to that situation. Former Supreme Court Justice Michael Cheshin also offered his support to the proposal.