The Ben Zygier case: Questions that not even the journalists are asking…a J-Wire editorial

February 22, 2013 by  
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As intriguing as the Ben Zygier case undoubtedly is, there is perhaps an additional, unstated reason it has attracted the level of media frenzy we have seen over the last two weeks.  The entire incident raises searing questions about the ethics and responsibilities of journalists. 

Ben Zygier   Photo provided and copyright

Ben Zygier Photo provided and copyright

Journalists routinely berate governments for maintaining secrecy about security matters.  Some of them seek to penetrate that secrecy, despite the obvious risks to the lives of agents, and to the success of the operations in which they are involved, that ensue when security leaks occur. Wikileaks has been responsible for some notable examples.

Yet when it comes to divulging their own sources of information, journalists are far more secretive than any government, and with considerably less justification.  For a journalist to divulge the identity of a source of information might expose that source to adverse consequences, but what consequence could be more adverse than loss of life?

Journalists must of course keep their sources strictly confidential, but their failure to respect the need of others for confidentiality – especially in security matters when lives are usually at stake – reeks of hypocrisy.

Let it not be forgotten that the chain of events that led to Ben Zygier’s death began in late 2009 with the leaking of information to a journalist – Fairfax’s Jason Koutsoukis – about Ben, his various name changes and alleged Mossad activities.   For all the media hype, here are the salient questions, most of which journalists are NOT asking:

  1. Who leaked the information about Ben Zygier’s to Jason Koutsoukis?
  2. What was the leaker’s true purpose in doing so?
  3. What was Jason Koutsoukis told was the leaker’s purpose?
  4. What precisely was the “information” that was leaked?
  5. Was Koutsoukis led to believe that Ben Zygier had used his Australian passport unlawfully?  If so, did this belief turn out to be true or false?
  6. Why was Fairfax’s Koutsoukis picked as the recipient of the leak(s) instead of, say, Murdoch’s John Lyons, or some other journalist?
  7. What effect did the leak(s) have in leading to Ben Zygier’s arrest and ultimate death in custody in Israel?

The dark corners of the world of journalism are every bit as murky as those of the world of espionage. This should not come as a surprise.  The activities of the two worlds are not unrelated. Even accepting, as I do, that Ben Zygier died by his own hand, I cannot help wondering how many other hands around the world are stained with his blood.

Henry Benjamin [Editor]

Comments

18 Responses to “The Ben Zygier case: Questions that not even the journalists are asking…a J-Wire editorial”
  1. Liat Nagar says:

    Very different and astute questions, Henry. Stepping back from all the media comment that’s followed, it’s interesting to realise where the focus has been … initially to lean in the direction of foul play by the Israelis and posit questions in that regard, and also how quick some have been to weave and connect the Dubai assassination with the whole thing, simply because of Australian passports being used, even though his were not involved.! Anything for something to say, as Ben was Australian.
    If you start asking different questions, that are more basic and to the subject, it allows a very different picture for viewing.
    I am wondering why Jason Koutsoukis is living in Beirut? (When Ruth Pollard replaced him as the Middle East correspondent I was glad to be rid of him, as I considered his articles lightweight as much as anything else. I could discern discomfort and lack of real interest or knowledge in his writing – it was as if he didn’t know where to turn next for a story, and now we have him up to his ears in this one. I do actually rue the change, because Pollard is one of the worst reporters we’ve had to bear in regard to Israel.)
    Thanks for the different take on things, Henry. Can you perhaps make the editorial a more regular feature?

  2. Ben David says:

    David

    It may well be in Israel’s interests to keep secret the details of the unlawful use of Australian passports by Israel – the same cannot however be said of the Australian gov which is rightly more concerned about this unlawful and potentially dangerous practice. Cant see how Aus gov or press could, in making call to allow publication, anticipate or be responsible for Zygler’s suicide. In Australia, the public interest in this news story is not outweighed by security or safety concerns.

    Your Randwick hypothetical is not comparable since Australia’s interests may well be best served by a gag order until the public is safe.

    Ben David

    • David says:

      Ben David

      All of the issues you raise deal with the national security interests of both Australia and Israel. They need to be dealt with confidentially until either country is prepared to go public.

  3. Ben Eleijah says:

    Publishing the news of a impending bomb attack is good journalism and serves a public cause, unless it is a false flag operation the government wishes to hide.

    • David says:

      Ben

      Great if terrorists were under observation and escape just as they were about to be caught by security forces.

      Secrecy is the essence of security and the media need to know when to respect its confidentiality.

  4. Swag says:

    Don’t shoot the messenger enough said. Excuse the pun.

  5. Jonny says:

    Without secrets, there would be no crime, disparity, poverty, exploitation, manipulation, conflict or even animosity. With all information in the open, everyone would benefit in exponential terms. The only people who desire secrets are those with malicious intent and a Toddler desire to take what isn’t theirs, rape those who have not given consent, molest and exploit their own for ‘advantage’ and leech on the Humanity they’ve been choking to death for 50 centuries.

    Every sovereign plantation-state exists in open Treason against the Human Race.

  6. LIZZIE says:

    “How many other hands are stained with his blood?” – dead right; right on the knocker Mr Benyamin! This case stinks to high heaven – tragically.

  7. david says:

    To Tony and Ben Eleijah:

    Is any information of any kind entitled to confidentiality to avoid it coming into the public arena.? People like Julian Assange, and apparently both of you say “no” and you are entitled to your opinion.

    I disagree.

    Any information that could affect the national security interests of a country should be entitled to remain confidential and not be splashed all over the world’s media.

    Here is an interesting hypothetical:

    A journalist receives information that a terrorist attack is going to take place at Randwick racecourse on 1 July 2013.

    Should the journalist publish that information – that will certainly gain world headlines and the journalist a fleeting moment of fame – or should he pass on that information to the police or ASIO to allow that information to be dealt with as thought best in Australia’s national security interests?

    In my opinion the journalist should not publish no matter who the informant – unless he has obtained a clear assurance that publication will serve to assist in protecting the Australia’s national security interest.

    Journalists know they cannot publish stories that are leaked to them that may be defamatory – so they know there are limits on what they can publish.

    They need to show the same restraint when it is the national interest that could be affected – not merely their own pocket or that of their publisher.

    • Shirlee says:

      I agree with you David, but for some inexplicable reason we appear to be in the minority.
      I see people like Julian Assange as a danger to national secuirty

    • tony says:

      Attributing attitudes to us “apparently both of you say “no” ” and raising a self answered hypothetical, while ignoring other salient, critical issues seems a bit strange to me, hypothetically. :o)
      tony

  8. tony says:

    You make some serious mistakes in this article.

    1. Even the US Government has conceded that Wikileaks has not cost nor jeapordised anyone’s life.

    2. “Accepting” the suicide of a bruised, drugged and reportedly positive detainee when even the Israeli investigator didn’t is merely your belief.

    3. Tarring all journos & agents with a the same negative brush is nonsensical.

    4. “Choosing” the Fairfax Investigative Journo over any Murdoch muppet is a no-brainer.

    5. You ignore Mossad’s own guilt in allowing the public ID’s false & otherwise of more than 20 passport holders.

    6. Ignoring the particular challenge of dual national Aussie/Israelis in the wake of Ben’s death seems a little weird.

    may further research inform your future writing.

    shalom
    tony

  9. Ben Eleijah says:

    Wikileaks has resulted in deaths ! When? And how does asking Zygier about his alleged Mossad activties result in his death or personal danger? If a journalist in Lebanon leanrs that a Lebanese Australian is working for Lebanese espionage with the possibility of using several Australian passports, should the journalist reveal the source of information to Lebanon? Or not pursue the information ?

  10. JJ says:

    Well said Henry. Perhaps you should send you editorial to the SMH as a letter and see if they print it?

  11. Gedalia says:

    nicely written. I would love to see more editorial comment on Jwire.

  12. michael says:

    Good article.
    When you mix Jason Koutsoukis, Al’Age’ Fairfax its always going to be bad for Israel and Jews !

    Burdy

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