The Transcripts and the Media
An Editorial

Yediot Ahronot
November 25, 1999
By Moshe Vardi (Editor-in-Chief)

Yesterday Yediot Ahronot published secret testimonies from the trial of Mordechai Vanunu, as well as parts of his interrogation and his testimony, and interviews with key figures who are connected to the affair. That was the culmination of thorough and lengthy journalistic labor and a principled legal battle.

Alongside the praise for the journalistic achievement and the immense interest on the part of the readers, criticism was also voiced by various figures. Some of them were [motivated by] a connection to the affair, some by political concepts, which are incompatible with freedom of the press and with an understanding of the role of the press.

Indeed, the Yediot Ahronot revelation was not only a professional achievement. It was also a lesson in understanding the press. Thirteen years have passed since the arrest of Mordechai Vanunu, and the affair that bears his name refuses to be forgotten and shelved. This can be attributed to the elements of suspense and mystery that are part of the affair, but that is an overly simplistic explanation. From its very beginning it was not only the "Vanunu Affair," but also a crossroads for the Israeli public. From certain aspects, the Vanunu affair matured us, put wrinkles in our innocence, gave us knowledge that we had previously avoided - whether because we had no other choice, or out of choice.

Not only the affair and not only the Israeli nuclear policy aroused controversy. So did Mordechai Vanunu the man. Some people saw him as a traitor, others see him as a man of principles, some see him as a lost and sorry soul, others see him as a cold-blooded mercenary. Some want to release him and others want to return him to the solitary confinement in which he was placed for ten years. Yediot Ahronot does not judge Vanunu nor does it define him. That work is left to the courts and to the readers themselves. But the newspaper does want to pass on to the public the knowledge that each citizen in a democratic state needs in order to form their position concerning the events and the people who created them.

One of the more interesting responses to the exposure was that of Minister Shimon Peres, who is credited with establishing the Dimona reactor, and who was the Prime Minister when the order was given to kidnap Vanunu and bring him to Israel. Yesterday Peres criticized the very publication, which in his view is harmful, and he even said: "The public knows that there are things that they don't want to know." Especially he, a leader who in the past few years underwent a metamorphosis and became the most innovative and lively figure in Israeli politics, has returned to the thought and speech patterns of the Labor Party in the fifties, back in the days when the Prime Minister's office would censor the news broadcasts.

Those days have passed, along with the last remnants of the "appointed press." Today's newspapers no longer accept all briefings and censorship as inevitable. In the modern world of the media - with satellites, CNN and the internet - any attempt to block information is a lost battle. We live in an era of free information, that flows in real time and with full openness. There is absolute freedom of knowledge, and people have to get used to that. Every country in the world has experienced cases of espionage and treason. Even if the exposure of such caused embarrassment to the authorities - ultimately, the exposure only led to positive results.

Today's reader has also changed and among other things, he already knows the fact that the textile factory near Dimona does not only produce socks. And happily for us, the establishment also sees things differently than it did in the past: the Yediot Ahronot exposure was done with the consent of the judiciary and of the qualified authorities.

"In the last few years Mr. Peres has time and again presented to us bold visions of the "new Middle East." He must understand, that in the new Middle East, the old press will not work. Not only the hi-tech industry and computers are knowledge-intensive, but also the press - and the press is entitled and obliged to provide that knowledge to its readers."