Publish and Let Others Perish? Uri Blau to Justice NOW!

Journalists protested against Uri Blau's indictment, but freedom of the press does not override all other laws.

Ronn Torossian

OpEds Ronn Torossian
Ronn Torossian

The fact that journalists worldwide often have a “holier than thou” attitude is something I experience first hand, as owner of one of the  world’s largest Public Relations agencies– and while the concept of freedom of the press is indeed an important one – so, too, are many important laws and so, too, are human lives.

Politicians, VIP’s, ordinary citizens – and journalists – no one is above the law. Freedom of the press is a vital value in any democracy, and so too is it understood that in any country secrecy is a basic tool of national defense.

Israel’s Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein decision to charge Haaretz reporter Uri Blau with unauthorized possession of stolen classified documents from the Israel Defense Forces is part and parcel of living in a democratic state.

Naturally, in a country where a majority of the country serves in the military, the government has the responsibility to protect her citizen soldiers. What can the government say to the next soldier harmed because a journalist releases stolen military information? Are lives not more important than press?

Freedom of the press is not an absolute that overrides all other laws.

Reporters often endanger themselves by entering war zones in pursuit of stories, and often protect their sources and sit in jail to protect a source (a la former reporter Judith Miller of The NY Times who spent 85 days in jail to protect a source.)

What can the government say to the next soldier harmed because a journalist releases stolen military information?
Blau did none of the above – he knowingly used stolen material, harmed sacred journalistic privilege and betrayed his source, and fled his native land in an attempt to avoid prosecution. Why is it that the media feels Blau is above the law?

Israel is one of the few nations in the world where one can often turn to the opinion pages of a newspaper and see a letter calling for Israel to be destroyed.

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

Some of the world’s biggest security concerns exist in Israel, and naturally protecting security concerns is a necessity – and Ha’aretz, it seems to me, regularly endangers the nations’ security.

In the United States, it is very rare that media will use stolen documents - There are civil and criminal penalties for such actions.

Is there no decency among media, any wish to protect people's lives? Should a far-left publication like Haaretz be the arbitrator on what should be released and what shouldn’t?

One wonders if Israeli journalists would feel the same way about defending Blau, say if secret evacuation plans for Jewish settlements (if there are any) were released widespread in the media by a religious settler in the army?

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 a 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 responsibility and a (more important) sacred right to protect their citizens.

Blau can speak of his “role as a journalist” – and he’s certainly right that media can print interesting information. But he is neglecting the fact that the government naturally has a role to play as well – protecting its citizens.

It is part and parcel of a give and take relationship – and journalists must be held accountable for their activities.

Serving Israel’s worldwide 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 – nor too should journalists be allowed to endanger their country by publishing stolen military documents.

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.