The Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee has approved the second and third readings of a bill that, if passed, would prohibit the publication of pictures of victims of terror attacks.
The bill was presented by MKs Uri Maklev and Moshe Gafni and is an amendment to Israel’s Privacy Act. It states that a ban would be placed on publications of photographs taken of victims that were taken while they were hurt or closely afterwards and in which they can be identified or may be embarrassed by the publication. An injured person is defined in the bill as a person who suffered physical or mental injury due to a sudden event, and the harm that caused to him is apparent in the photo.
The bill also states that publishing photos of a human body that may be recognized would constitute a violation of privacy. It adds, however, that if that person agreed to publishing his photo while he was alive, the publication would be possible. As well, if 20 years have passed since the date of the victim's death, the photo may be published provided that the deceased did not object to the publication of the photo while he was alive.
Representatives of the media who took part in the debate expressed their opposition to the law on the grounds that it would severely limit the freedom of the press in general and live broadcasts in particular. In contrast, journalist Shimon Shiffer said that the issue “cannot be left only to the consideration of the media. There should be set rules for this by law.”
Arik Bachar, Secretary-General of the Israel Press Council, argued during the debate that the media has shown maturity and responsibility in its coverage of recent events, including last week’s bombing in Jerusalem, the massacre of the Fogel family in Itamar, and the earthquake and tsunami in Japan.
It should be noted that photos of the bodies of the Fogel family members were released for publication in the media after the murder. The photos were released by the family and the media was given full permission to use them in order to report on the horrific reality of murdering children and babies in their sleep, “simply because they are Jewish.”
MK Uri Maklev said during the debate that “At its starting point, law is not intended to limit the freedom of the press. The law defines human rights, privacy and the right not to be publicized in a way that would be offensive. I represent citizens who do not have lawyers and do not know how to defend themselves against the media. Unfortunately, sometimes the street turns into an emergency room or operating room, and we must protect the wounded. We must consider the issue of human rights against freedom of the press. The law will also help editors make the right decisions.”
MK Moshe Gafni noted that “the law does not in any way harm freedom of the press but rather protects the right of individuals to privacy.” He told media representatives: “Do not make our request to protect the public from harmful images as causing harm to the freedom of the press. The law conveys a message of human rights and protects human dignity.”
Gafni added that “as a gesture of goodwill and in order to take the media outlets’ concerns into consideration media, we have agreed not to include live broadcasts as part of the law.
Lawyers representing the media requested that the media outlets be allowed to publish photos from events which took place abroad. They also requested that a journalist who breaks the law not be charged with a criminal offense but at most would be sued in a civil court. The committee did not accept their proposals.