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June 7, 2012 1:40 am

Journalists Are Not Above the Law

avatar by Ronn Torossian

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The Haaretz newspaper.

The fact that many journalists convey a “holier than thou” attitude is something I have often experienced first hand as owner of a major PR Agency, 5WPR. While the concept of maintaining a free press is indeed an important value, surely the preservation of life is more important. Whether politicians, VIP’s, ordinary citizens or journalists,  no one is above the law. Freedom of the press is a vital value of any democracy, and so too it is understood that for the State, secrecy is a basic tool of national defense.

Israel’s Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein’s decision to charge Haaretz reporter Uri Blau with unauthorized possession of stolen classified documents from the Israel Defense Forces is also a product of life in a democratic state. Naturally, in a country where the majority of people have served in the military, the government is responsible to protect its citizen soldiers. What would the government respond to the family of the next soldier harmed as a result of released stolen military information? Are lives not the most important concern?

Freedom of the press can’t be an absolute law that overrides all others.

Reporters often endanger themselves by entering war zones in pursuit of stories, and at times go to great lengths to protect their sources some even serving jail sentances (as did former New York Times reporter Judith Miller who spent eighty-five days in jail to protect a source). Blau did none of the above – he knowingly published information from stolen material, harming sacred journalistic privilege by betraying his source, and fled his native land in an attempt to avoid prosecution.

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While the decision to indict Blau didn’t go over well with the journalistic community, the charges are necessary. The potential for damage in the unprotected possession of the documents was enormous because the lives of Israeli soldiers could have been endangered had the documents given to Blau fallen into the hands of those hostile to Israel.

In the United States, it is very rare that media will publish information from stolen documents since there are civil and criminal penalties for such actions.

Is there no moral code among  journalists  regarding the protection of people’s lives? Should a far-left publication like Haaretz be the arbitrator on what information should be released and what shouldn’t? One wonders if Israeli journalists would still defend Blau, say if he had found a way to publish secret evacuation plans for Jewish settlements provided to him a religious soldier?

As Gabriel Schoenfeld, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute wrote in “Necessary Secrets,” reporters shouldn’t be able to “publish and let others perish,” or, as he quotes from one newspaper editor, to publish “no matter the cost.” Freedom of information and journalism is  a sacred right which journalists protect – but states and governments have the responsibility, and a more important one, to protect their citizens, and journalists must be held accountable for their activities.

Serving its enemies, regardless if one is a journalist, is not something any democratic country should or can allow. Shouting fire in a crowded theatre isn’t legal. One wonders why journalists think they are exempt from the fundamental obligations of citizenship. They are not – and Uri Blau deserves prosecution. No one is above the law.

Ronn Torossian is CEO of 5WPR, a leading crisis PR agency.

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