Crimes of Omission

The press plays a crucial role in maintaining the vibrancy democracy. We rely on the press corps to uncover scandals and give a voice to the downtrodden, dispossessed and otherwise disenfranchised. We also rely on them to get the facts and set the record straight, for otherwise, championing the underdog can quickly descend into rumor mongering and demagoguery.

And yet, it seems that the press isn’t always conscious of its responsibilities, as is very blatant in its Middle East reporting, where the correct Left Wing Cause trumps the responsibility to report facts and set the record straight.

Particularly telling is the following comparison of the report on an event by the French television stations France3 and TF1. If you don’t speak French, watch the broadcast and look at the concluding comments.

Synopsys: An Israeli military jeep enters the Balata refugee camp to carry out its law and order mandate. As the Jeep enters a particular street, Palestinian Arab youth throw stones at the IDF, and a shot is heard. Next, a mother breaks into hysterical sobs, for her six year old son has been hit by the bullet; he died shortly afterwards. It is clearly implied that the Israelis shot the child.

… Thus reported France3. When watching TF1’s report of the same incident, however, it turns out that the soldiers hadn’t fired a single shot; that dubious honour belonged to a Palestinian Arab terrorist who shot at the Israeli jeep; his bullet ricochetted off the jeep and hit the child. It turns out the Israelis weren’t responsible after all, a Palestinian had killed one of his own, an innocent child passing by. Does the terrorist consider the child collateral damage?

Will France3 ever recognize that, through omission of a small but oh so inconvenient fact, they are guilty of slandering the Israelis and are obstructing justice in the court of popular opinion?

While France3’s reporting is ethically wrong and despicable, the above got me thinking about the halakhic issues involved, for while we may make ethical demands on the non Jewish television station, as well, it is also interesting to consider whether there are any explicit halakhic transgressions involved, for through the seven universal “noachide mitzvot,” the Torah makes some explicit nonritual demands upon all of humanity. This is outside my area of expertise, so I am mostly asking questions. I forwarded them to the Avodah mailing list. [The text below is filled with Hebrew terms that are not so well known. The first time such term occurs in the text, it may be underlined. If so, hovering with the mouse cursor above the term will make a little explanatory note or translation appear. To your service ;-).]

First of all, is withholding such information assur for a Jew (we’ll ignore for a moment that such blood libels incite others to violence, because once we start mentioning piqua’h nefesh and eyva</acronym, we’ll no longer be able to analyze the finer points)?

The Tzitz Eli’ezer quotes a Yad Rema, who extends the assey
prohibition of midevar sheqer tir’haq to written material, as well, which would include multimedia, his point being that sheqer is sheqer even if you use alternate communication channels, and didn’t actually say anything. So, it would seem that this is sheqer by omission. That, in turn, may be a form of motzi shem ra’ and onaat devarim.

But is that so? Is omission sheqer deOraita?

In the case of broadcasts by subscribers, we may add that there is
commercial wrongdoing of the geneivat da’at type, as the clients assume that they are buying factually correct news, while it isn’t.
Likewise, in cases where the news is syndicated by other channels and payment is passed from local channels to news provider, there may be a case of geneivat da’at. However, what about advertising supported networks (which most are), are the advertisers clients of the entire offering, as they peg their reputation on the channels where they recruit customers?

Finally, since the networks aren’t Jewish, does any of this apply to
non Jews? The prohibition of Sheqer seems disconnected from any of the 7 mitzvot BN, so that seems inapplicable.

Onaah mentions ish et a’hiv (“brethren”) and ‘amito (the translation of this term is mired in controversy, best translated as “fellow”), which both seem to be regarding fellow Jews. But is it? The exception to the prohibition of onaat devarim regarding a rasha is explained by either Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach or the Shevet haLevi (don’t recall, sorry) as being a particular aspect of tokhe’ha, and hence, when the mitzvah of tokhe’ha cannot be fulfilled, either because one won’t be successful, doesn’t have the influence, or because there is no such obligation regarding a nokhri, then the issur of onaat devarim returns in full force. Is that obligation two sided, or are only Jews prevented from onaat devarim, while benei Noa’h are free to do as they please?

How about motzi shem ra’?

Your thoughts will be much appreciated,

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One Response to Crimes of Omission

  1. micha says:

    RAF wrote: Finally, since the networks aren’t Jewish, does any of this apply to non Jews? The prohibition of Sheqer seems disconnected from any of the 7 mitzvot BN, so that seems inapplicable.

    The fact that sheqer is called geneivas daas would to me mean we have to prove whether or not it is included within the 7MbN.

    Turning to CM 228:6, we find that “asur leramos .. o lignov da’atan … af im hu oveid kokhavim” in business. “Ve’af lignov da’as haberi’os bidvarim” such that it looks like he’s doing him a favor and isn’t. The SA’s example is making an appointment to dine together with no plans on ever doing so.

    (Does anyone know if we can assume “aku”m” in the SA really means ovedei AZ, or if perhaps it’s a censor’s word choice?)

    So, geneivas da’as by a Yehudi of a nachri is assur.

    That’s not whether it’s assur for them to commit, but it makes RAF’s perception that they disconnected less compelling.

    RAF: Onaah mentions ish et a’hiv and ‘amito, which both seem to be regarding fellow Jews. But is it? The exception to the prohibition of onaat devarim regarding a rasha is explained … as being a particular aspect of tokhe’ha, and hence, when the mitzvah of tokhe’ha cannot be fulfilled… then the issur of onaat devarim returns in full force. Is that obligation two sided, or are only Jews prevented from onaat devarim, while benei Noa’h are free to do as they please?
    How about motzi shem ra’?

    MSR is geneivas da’as, and we aren’t allowed.

    Actually LH is also limited by the pasuq to “achikha”, and there is no falsehood involved. I would think that saying LH about a nachri is permitted. (It’s not even DDD, as “slander” in ever country I heard of is also limited to sheqer.) The only problem I can see is that one may be developing a habit that will spill over into assur cases.

    None of which addresses the original issue of slander by a nachri about a nachri. I am just raising it to show that the question is real enough to need addressing.

    -micha

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