Media scandals

Too often, under the cover of protecting someone’s good name, entirely guiltless parties are smeared wholesale.

Silvan Shalom at cabinet meeting 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Silvan Shalom at cabinet meeting 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
For nearly an entire day yesterday our judicial system upheld the sham of withholding details of a sleazy scandal in order to shield the rights of a prominent politician.
Yet many hours before the see-through veil of secrecy was lifted, it was common knowledge that the buzz was all about National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Minister Silvan Shalom, who is being accused of serious sex crimes allegedly committed 15 years ago.
Just a few months ago our tittle-tattle craving society was gripped by insinuations about a major sex scandal involving an unnamed “popular singer.” It eventually turned out to have been much ado about not hardly enough for any sort of indictment. Yesterday it was the turn of a “senior minister” to be subjected to the same treatment.
Since the charges leveled against Shalom are old and are yet to be subjected to even exploratory probes, we clearly have no way to judge whether he is in any way culpable. But the hullabaloo is sure to cause him grievous political harm even if it is decreed that there are no grounds for further measures – be it due to the statute of limitations or other exculpatory or mitigating factors. Shalom’s reputation cannot escape damage, regardless of the technical presumption of innocence.
Perhaps the belated surfacing of accusations against Shalom is all about his presidential ambitions. In any event, it is too easy to blemish a political career with what is so far unsubstantiated hearsay.
To prevent precisely such injury a law was passed a year ago prohibiting publication of a suspect’s name for 48 hours after he or she is formally apprised, in the framework of an ongoing investigation, of the charges, or before an appearance before a judge.
But a loophole was seemingly found. One major news website argued that there is no legal barrier to spilling the beans about a complaint that has been lodged or about the attorney-general’s review of the issue. That site, therefore, made Shalom’s name known already early Monday morning.
Officialdom’s insistence on nevertheless continuing to protect Shalom’s anonymity was reduced to downright farce.
But even without the debate about the letter of the law, the fact remains that keeping secrets in our day and age is nearly impossible, rendering gag orders difficult to implement.
Israel’s small size and abundance of individuals- in-the-know have always made gossip mongering a national pastime. Add to this cyber technology that abets the sensationalism, and it becomes all the harder to keep the lid on the human yearning for the lurid and the titillating. Wagging tongues have never had it this easy.
This has ramifications far and beyond Shalom as the senior minister at the center of the salient scuttlebutt.
Withholding his name did him little if any good. Not only did most of the public know but, many hours ahead of the official disclosure, his family members went on record with no-holds-barred reactions and promises to fight what they insisted was out-and-out slander.
Yet initially at least, when the “senior minister’s” identity was still somewhat suppressed, all other claimants to the title of “senior minister” could hypothetically be tarred as suspected wrongdoers. This collective temporary distress was the lot of at least half a dozen ministers.
Similarly, in the “popular singer” episode more than a few successful crooners complained they were subjected to innuendo and unfairly placed under suspicion.
The idea of keeping the name of an accused person under wraps in the preliminary stages of proceedings was surely born of good intentions. The trouble is that often good intentions do not pave the way to the desired result.
Too often, under the cover of protecting someone’s good name, entirely guiltless parties are smeared wholesale. Perhaps the focus should not be on the media that dishes the dirt but on the legal and law-enforcement communities that are serially unable to stem leaks.