'Provision needed for journalists holding secret documents'

As Uri Blau reaches plea bargain, experts say journalists who held secret information for work need immunity.

Uri Blau 370 (photo credit: Facebook)
Uri Blau 370
(photo credit: Facebook)
As news of Uri Blau’s plea bargain with the state broke Thursday, legal experts said there should be a provision under the law for journalists who hold secret documents as part of their work.
Prof. Emmanuel Gross, a criminal law expert from the University of Haifa, told The Jerusalem Post that journalists who held secret information for the purposes of their work, and who did not intend to harm state security, needed immunity.
“Journalists cannot do their job without that,” he added.
Under current law, journalists caught holding classified documents cannot use as a defense that they needed the material to do their work.
Gross said it “seemed illogical” that in a democratic country, journalists – who are expected to report on defense issues – could be prosecuted for holding the information required to write such reports.
“The law needs to take that into account,” he said, adding that stories involving the use of confidential information should of course pass through the military censor.
Journalists should also be aware of the limits of holding classified documents and how to keep them safely, Gross said, adding that the censor was not enough.
However, Gross noted that Blau held many more classified documents than he used to write his reports, had hung on to those documents even after he told security agents that he had given them all back and had stored them insecurely so that they posed a risk to state security.
Gross’s remarks echo comments made by MK Nachman Shai, a journalist by profession, who has said that journalistic coverage, “especially of the military, security and intelligence services, involves classified information and even possession of documents.”
Meanwhile, Yoram Shachar, a professor of criminal law at the Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya, told the Post on Thursday that in his opinion, the state should never have indicted Blau.
Shachar said that the law enforcement and defense establishment regularly leak information to journalists. Blau, however, had not “played the game,” he added.
“He moved away from the informal understanding [between the defense establishment and the media] and all hell broke loose,” Shachar said.
Shachar also noted what he said was a large gap between the “aggressive rhetoric” of the accusations against Blau and the plea bargain.
With regard to the four-month community service punishment agreed in the plea bargain, Shachar said that similar deals, where the punishment is far less (and sometimes even far greater) than that stipulated under the Penal Code, occur frequently. “However, we will never know what Blau offered [in the plea bargain],” he concluded.