Dit essay schreef ik voor het vak Social Impact of Journalism aan de San Francisco State University.
In this essay I will discuss the impactful Sunday Times’ article ‘Revealed: The secrets of Israel’s nuclear arsenal.’ This story has significantly impacted society in multiple ways, which I will describe in this essay.
Mordechai Vanunu is a 65-year old ex-technician from Israel originally born in Morocco. For eight years (from 1976 until 1985) Vanunu was employed at the top-secret Dimona nuclear research centre in the Negev desert. In 1985 Vanunu was made redundant from the research centre. Vanunu then gradually started resenting some of the policies implemented by the Israeli government. This, and him being part of the extremist group Campus, made him noticeable to the Israeli authorities, according to Duncan Campbell in ‘The Guardian profile: Mordechai Vanunu,’ published in 2004.
Later in 1985, Vanunu started traveling the world. He utilized the $7,500 he received from Dimona when he was laid off and visited Nepal, Burma, Thailand and Australia. In Australia Vanunu met a reporter from the Sunday Times, Peter Hounam, according to Claire Cozens in ‘Israel bans Sunday Times journalist,’ published in The Guardian in 2004. The pair traveled to London together and in 1986 he shared details about his employment with the Sunday Times. Vanunu also shared some pictures he made inside the research centre. From Vanunu’s information it became apparent Israel ranked as the world’s sixth nuclear power and the country had 200 atomic warheads in their possession, writes Ian Black in the article ‘Mordechai Vanunu gets 18 years for treason’ published in The Guardian.
On Sunday October 5 in 1986 the headline of The Sunday Times read: ‘Revealed: The secrets of Israel’s nuclear arsenal.’ The article consisted of information and details Vanunu had told The Sunday Times about the Israeli nuclear research centre, located in an underground bunker, as well as pictures Vanunu had made inside of it.
The piece has definitely had an impact on society, as it exposed the existence of Israel’s secret nuclear weapons program. Israel never acknowledged having nuclear weapons in their possession, even though most defense experts, especially in the United States, believe the country had been developing nuclear warheads since the 1960s at Dimona nuclear research center, writes Tony Long in ‘Oct. 5, 1986: Israel’s Secret Nuke Arsenal Exposed’ for Wired. The article made the world realize that Israel should be considered a major nuclear power. According to Dutch journalist Anne Pek, who at the time researched Vanunu’s case and wrote an article on Vanunu for weekly magazine ‘De Groene Amsterdammer,’ “the piece hit society like a bomb, everywhere, except for Israel. Eventually the Israeli media too reported on Vanunu’s statements, but depicted Vanunu as a ‘dangerous fool’ and turned the Israeli people against him. They considered him to be a spy and traitor.” Pek continues: “The former prime minister of Israel, Shimon Peres, even called all Israeli editors not to quote from the article.”
Another impact of the article was that after the publication, Vanunu was lured to Italy by a secret service agent from Israel. Vanunu was drugged, bound and taken back to Israel. There he was convicted of criminal disloyalty to the state and espionage. He was sentenced to prison for 18 years. In 2004 Vanunu was released from prison, writes Felice Cohen-Joppa in the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs in June of that year. The Sunday Times chose to publish Vanunu’s name instead of anonymizing him. “At SFChronicle, we think the use of confidential or anonymous sources should be the exception, rather than the norm. Making use of a confidential source can diminish the credibility of both the story and the newspaper. There are a few things we consider before anonymizing sources, such as confidentiality, identity and motive,” says Owen Thomas, Business Editor at SFChronicle. “For that reason, The Sunday Times probably published Mordechai Vanunu’s name.”
According to their website, The Sunday Times abides by the Independent Press Standards Organization rules and Regulations and the Editors’ Code of Practice it enforces. This Code of Practice does not include a lengthy ruling about confidential sources, as it merely says: ‘Journalists have a moral obligation to protect confidential sources of information.’ The Code emphasizes the importance of the public interest, which includes: ‘Detecting or exposing crime, or the threat of crime, or serious impropriety; Disclosing a miscarriage of justice; Raising or contributing to a matter of public debate, including serious cases of impropriety, unethical conduct or incompetence concerning the public.’ The Sunday Times’ article definitely practices all these things.
In addition to these ways of impact, the publication also caused Vanunu to become a hero to peace activists around the world, according to Nuala Haughey in ‘Vanunu seen as villain or hero on eve of his release,’ published in The Irish Times. Vanunu has become an icon of the anti-nuclear movement worldwide, Haughey argues in the article.