Guardian’s Roy Greenslade invents a ‘freedom of the press’ bogeyman

Also appearing on the ‘Israel’ page of the Guardian’s ‘World News’ section, a September 4th post on Roy Greenslade’s media blog, headlined ” Israeli judge to reporter – state security matters more than press freedom” goes on to declare that:

“An Israeli court has ruled that state security is more important than freedom of the press and the public’s right to know”.

Sounds awful, doesn’t it? Most readers would immediately conjure up images of far-away dark regimes in which valiant journalists selflessly battle overpowering government repression in order to bring the truth to light for the sake of an uninformed and oppressed public. 

That may be what Roy Greenslade believes, and it certainly would not be the first time he has gone down similar routes. It may even be what he would like his readers to believe – which could explain his somewhat selective (to say the least) reporting of the Uri Blau case in general and his sentencing in particular. 

So let’s take a look at what the judge really said, according to sources in the language in which he actually said it. 

The Israeli website Walla! reports as follows: (emphasis added)

“The Magistrates Court in Tel Aviv today (Monday) gave a sentence of four months of community service to “Ha’aretz” journalist Uri Blau, who pleaded guilty and was convicted in July within the framework of a plea bargain of holding classified information, after he received around 1,800 classified documents, which were copied by Anat Kam, whilst she was a soldier in the office of the Major General of Central Command.”(…..)

” “The security of a country [depends upon] its ability to protect its military secrets” wrote the Judge Ido Druiyan in the verdict. “The exposure of such secrets exposes the country to the schemes of its enemies, on the way revealing strong and weak points, military and other plans, and negates the potential of surprise in the case of a pre-planned attack where that is necessary”. The judge agreed with the definition of the prosecution that the documents which Blau circulated were a ticking bomb, even if they were not held with the intention of harming state security: “How easy it is to hack into a computer, steal and make copies of such material”. “

“In the verdict the Judge also addressed [the subject of] the importance of investigative journalism and wrote: “If we compare state security with the freedom of the press and the right of the public to know as absolute values, the value of state security will be greater if only for the simple reason that without the safe existence of the state and its citizens, the press and the public will also not exist”. Together with that, he explained that the court balances between the values and stressed that the material with which Blau dealt is of the highest public importance. “The enormous importance of the security systems and the character of their activity affords in Israel a special urgency and importance to their being the active subject of lively public and political debate”. He also wrote that “The free activity of investigative journalism is among the bases of democracy because without real information the public is exposed to the destructive harm of wild demagoguery, malicious lies and deliberate concealment“. “

“Judge Druiyan added that “The state recognizes the special standing of the journalist and is prepared to tolerate the gap between precise enforcement of the law and between the restraint dictated by the recognition in this country of investigative journalism. That gap is the breathing space of the democracy“. ” (….)

The Walla! article further reminds us that: 

“Blau published at the time articles on targeted assassinations which were carried out in the territories, and were based on the documents he received from Kam. After the publication of the articles, he signed an agreement with the General Security services, within the framework of which he passed over to the security services 50 documents, and his computer was destroyed. After the arrest of Kam, it became clear that he held hundreds of additional documents, some classified as secret and top-secret. With the breaking of the Kam affair, he left the country for a number of months and upon his return was questioned. “

“The prosecutor in the trial, Lawyer Dassi Forer of the Tel Aviv District Advocacy, said at the stage of arguments for sentencing that her decision to present an indictment came about after much deliberation, because of the importance of free media.”

So, as we see yet again (if we are feeling charitable), a Guardian writer’s prejudices and pre-conceived opinions regarding Israel in general and its judicial system in particular – coupled with a lack of serious research – prevent that newspaper from presenting to its readers a fair and balanced account of events. 

Were one in a less generous mood, one might alternatively raise questions regarding the professor of journalism Roy Greenslade’s own commitment  to the public’s “right to know” the whole story, rather than just cherry-picked items selected to advance an agenda. 

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