Issue 5: Human Dignity
24 February '11
In this issue of Tomorrow Magazine we will explore the publication of a suspect’s name before he is indicted. How can we protect a person’s reputation and dignity, while still protecting the public from dangerous individuals or elected leaders?
One of the most difficult and painful subjects in the State of Israel is the difficulty of defending the good reputation of someone under criminal investigation. The difficulty stems from the ease with which his name can be publicized even before an indictment has been served and his being “found guilty” by the media. There are two main factors that cause the current situation: The lack of effective judicial tools that would prevent publication of a suspect’s name, and despair in the face of the rating-hungry media.
The following two examples illustrate the problem:
One morning a man, a journalist by profession, finds out that he is suspected of sexually abusing two women, and this from looking at news sites before he was even called in for questioning. After 24 hours of questioning, he is released to his home and one month later receives a notice that the case is closed for lack of evidence. The media claims, in its defense, that due to the man’s stature, it was important to break the story.
In the second case, publication causes irreversible damage. In 2003, a story was published that Jerusalem businessman Shimshon Nir, a former member of the Jerusalem city council was taken in for questioning under suspicion of involvement in a bribery scandal in which senior bank and National Insurance officials were involved. The result was that his credibility as a businessman was irreparably damaged and he was fired from his position on the board of directors of a sizable pension fund. All his money and savings were spent on defending himself. Ultimately, Nir was forced to drag himself abroad to earn a living. Four years later he was notified that the case against him was closed.
His credibility as a businessman was irreparably damaged and he was fired from his position on the board of directors of a sizable pension fund. All his money and savings were spent on defending himself. Ultimately, Nir was forced to drag himself abroad to earn a living. Four years later he was notified that the case against him was closed.
In both these cases, publication of their cases branded the suspects for life, all this regardless of the actual results of the investigation.
It seems clear that uncensored publication of the names of those involved in an investigation in its initial stages, in a practical sense constitutes a field trial by the media and causes destructive results: social damage and damage to one’s reputation, economic damage (earning a living, the possibility of promotion), and damage to one’s judicial rights (presumption of innocence, right to a fair trial). The dilemma is reinforced in light of the fact that the media doesn’t generally bother publicizing that suspicions were unfounded or that the case against the suspect was closed.
The public’s right to know has for all intents and purposes turned into a sanction for destroying a person’s reputation.
(Read full "Out of the Box: Inquisition or Public Right to Know?")
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