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Media Comment: A matter of police work (JERUSALEM POST) By YISRAEL MEDAD AND ELI POLLAK 12/08/02)Source: http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?pagename=JPost/A/JPArticle/ShowFull&cid=1039248667686 JERUSALEM POST JERUSALEM POST Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
Next to getting a good byline, some say, the next best thing for a journalist is seeing the subject of his investigative writing behind bars. To do so, the reporter usually needs to be on very good terms with the police.

The symbiotic relationship between the media and the police, is well- known. Last week, though, something went awry in the case of senior police officer, Inspector Moshe Mizrahi, head of the Police Investigations Department.

Our story starts with allegations a few years ago by Yisrael Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman that Mizrahi used illegal wiretaps in a probe of political figures, notably then prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu, as well as himself. Mizrahi was involved in checking allegations that Lieberman had connections with people of questionable repute here and abroad, termed the "Russian Mafia." The case against Lieberman was later closed without charges being pressed. Lieberman claimed, though, that during the investigation, Mizrahi violated the limitations of a court order permitting him to tap conversations.

One of Mizrahi´s detectives seemingly affirmed Lieberman´s allegations and sent an affidavit to reporter Yoav Yitzhak charging that Mizrahi had them transcribed, a former staff member claimed, even though they were not directly related to the original suspicions.

The story reached a climax last week. First, Moshe Nusbaum, veteran Channel Two TV police beat reporter, incorrectly told viewers that a special police investigation unit had recommended that Mizrahi face criminal proceedings. Then it was revealed by spokesperson Ya´acov Galanti that it was the Justice Ministry´s police investigation department that was going to recommend that Mizrahi be indicted.

Afterwards, it seemed that he might face only a disciplinary hearing for his handling of wiretaps used in investigations he led. Then the media informed us that State Prosecutor Edna Arbel and her deputy for criminal proceedings, Nava Ben-Or, opposed the recommendation.

Galanti, speaking the day after Nusbaum´s report aired, was even quoted as saying that the police were upset by the report, which he termed "tendentious." He insisted that all are waiting for the completion of the investigation and that afterward, there will be talks with the attorney-general and a final decision will be made.

Lieberman has been waging what was seen as a vendetta against Mizrahi and at one point was forced by Attorney-General Elyakim Rubinstein to apologize to Mizrahi for some injudicious remarks he made. Nevertheless, he has been consistent in accusing Mizrahi of using his police powers to undermine Israeli democracy.

The Ma´ariv newspaper literally jumped in with both feet as Mizrahi is the nemesis of the Nimrodi family, the owners and publishers of the paper. The Nimrodis, father Ya´acov and son Ofer, demanded that Mizrahi be fired. They suspected the police commander was unprofessional in his investigation of their famous affair, which went to trial and resulted in both father and son being found guilty of improper conduct. But there is much more than injured personal feelings involved.

Interestingly, Yediot Aharonot was much more circumspect and marginalized the story. There seems to be an unhealthy relationship between the Yediot newspaper and the police. A fine line might have been crossed when Mordechai Gilat of Yediot handed over to the police his conclusions regarding the Netanyahu-Amedi affair (when Netanyahu was thought illegally to have padded the mover´s accounts) before they appeared in print and then incorporated in his story the decision of the police to open an investigation into the breaking story.

How close should a reporter-police relationship be? There was an infamous incident when Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, were undergoing a 10-hour interrogation by the police and every couple of hours, some new item would be broadcast, including a supposed tearful scene.

There are examples of "different" police-media relationships. The Boston Globe recently published secret grand jury testimony which revealed that the New England FBI condoned decades of murder by its valued informants and - to protect their gangland sources - knowingly allowed innocent men to spend decades in jail. This caused second thoughts about the stonewalling to protect previous administrations from lawsuits by wrongly jailed prisoners - and by the relatives of a score of victims murdered by mobsters cooperating with FBI agents.

Likud MK Yuval Steinitz was quite upset about the Mizrahi affair and the way Yediot sought to mitigate the damage, as he put it, to their "favorite," Inspector Mizrahi. Rephrasing the newspaper´s slogan, Steinitz termed Yediot as "the paper of the police" rather than "the paper of the state," words that rhyme in Hebrew. Steinitz claims that due to his criticism of Yediot as a media monopoly, he is also a target of Yediot´s wrath.

Whether Mizrahi will face a court trial or a disciplinary hearing is not his decision. The interesting question that remains is whether his media friends will try to come to his rescue and mount a campaign to pressure the state prosecutor´s office to consider the second alternative.

Yisrael Medad and Prof. Eli Pollak are, respectively, member of the Board of Israel´s Media Watch and its Chairman (www.imw.org.il). Comments are welcome at info@imw.org.il (© 1995-2002, The Jerusalem Post 12/08/02)




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