Police slammed for questioning reporter critical of mayor of Jerusalem
Army Radio reporter Michael Shemesh published a report headlined “Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem Suspected of Inappropriate Conduct”.
Israel police officers. (photo credit:Wikimedia Commons)
Jerusalem District Police called an Army Radio reporter in for questioning last week after he published a report critical of acting mayor and city councilman Meir Tourgeman, sparking new fears about police treatment of the press under commissioner Roni Alsheich, the former deputy head of the Shin Bet Israel Security Agency.
The story began last week, when Army Radio reporter Michael Shemesh published a report headlined “Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem Suspected of Inappropriate Conduct”.
The report stated that the city of Jerusalem’s legal council ordered Tourgeman to not take part in hearings involving businessman and city council member Rami Levy, Attorney Shlomo Deri (Minister of Interior Aryeh Deri’s brother), and real estate developer David Kleiner, due to fears of a conflict of interest.
Following publication of the report, Tourgeman submitted a harassment complaint to police, and within hours an investigator from the Jerusalem District contacted Shemesh, calling him to report for questioning under caution.
Shemesh refused, and according to a report in theMarker, the officer threatened to arrest Shemesh if he did not show up. Shemesh continued to refuse, and the matter was only dropped after Army Radio officials got involved, the report stated.
Tourgeman said Wednesday that Shemesh harassed him and that he would also submit a libel suit.
The incident was a violation of the protocol for police questioning of journalists. According to police procedure, in the event that the police have to question a journalist, the head of the investigations department of the relevant police station must send a request to the head of the police investigations branch, who will decided whether or not to contact the State Attorney’s office or the head of the Israel Press Council.
The officer must also contact the Police Commissioner.; In this case, Shemesh was called in for questioning within hours, without the investigator moving up the command chain.
Arik Bachar, the head of the Israel Press Council said in a comment sent to Walla! News on Wednesday that the council would meet with police to ensure that they won’t against violate their procedures for how they question journalists.
The Israeli Journalists Association said in response to the report that they condemn the police calling in for questioning of Shemesh, and that “unfortunately, time after time the police show that they do not understand in depth the role of the press, and operate in a way that harms the ability of journalists to serve the Israeli public.”
News of the incident sparked outrage among Israeli journalists on Tuesday night.
In a closed WhatsApp group run by the Israel Police that includes dozens of crime reporters from across the country, National Police Spokeswoman Merav Lapidot was bombarded with questions from a series of veteran reporters demanding an explanation.
Lapidot said after examining the issue that a complaint was submitted against Shemesh and the investigator contacted him in order to check the particulars of the complaint, without first attaining the proper approval from his superiors.
Once superior officers got wind of the fact that a journalist had been called in for questioning, the cancelled the order, Lapidot said. She ordered that the incident was a case of “grave personal error”, and that police would apply lessons from the incident.
Asked if the officer in question had been punished, Lapidot said “the matter is being dealt with”.
Since Alsheich was sworn in as head of the police in December, crime reporters have complained about a worsening relationship between the press and the police, with many reporters alleging that Alsheich has imported the culture of secrecy of the Shin Bet into his new job.
Since December he has given scant comments to the press and has declared that he would stop all leaks from within the organization.
There has also been a noticeable decrease in the use of conference call briefings with reporters and press conferences by police commanders since he began his term.