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A gag order (also known as a gagging order or suppression order) is an order, sometimes a legal order by a court or government, other times a private order by an employer or other institution, restricting information or comment from being made public.

Gag orders are often used against participants involved in a lawsuit or criminal trial. They are also a tool to prevent media from publishing unwanted information on a particular topic. A Criminal Court, for instance, will issue a gag order on the media if the judge believes that potential jurors in a future trial will be influenced by the media reporting or speculation on the early stages of a case. Another example might be to ensure police are not impeded in their investigations by media publicity about a case.

In a similar manner, a 'gag law' is intended to limit freedom of the press, by instituting censorship or restricting access to information.

Examples of gag orders

India

After the 2008 Mumbai attacks in which live streaming of the event was broadcast, the Indian government proposed a draft law that would gag media outlets broadcasting live pictures during a terrorist event or war, to ensure the safety of any hostages and to protect security operations from hindrance. This has been opposed by Indian media who argue that they have adopted 'self-regulation' during such events and refrain from doing so anyway. It is uncertain if the draft law will be passed or not.[1]

Israel

In late 2009 Israel issued a gag order against the Israeli media reporting on facts surrounding the Anat Kamm-Uri Blau affair. The gag order was ultimately subject to widespread criticism and publicity as the details of the case were reported overseas. The scandal centered around leaked documents from the Israeli Defense Force which suggested the military had engaged in extrajudicial killings.[2]

Malaysia

There was speculation that a gag order may be imposed by the MCA on their press statements before they are released to the public to "ensure maximum effectiveness". Such releases would have to be approved by the president.[3] These claims in the media were later denied.[4]

United States

A National Security Letter, an administrative subpoena used by the FBI, has an attached gag order which restricts the recipient from ever saying anything about being served with one.[5] The government has issued hundreds of thousands of such NSLs accompanied with gag orders.[6] The gag orders have been upheld in court.[6]

In the United States, a court can order parties to a case not to comment on it but has no authority to stop unrelated reporters from reporting on a case. Most statutes which restrict what may be reported have generally been found unconstitutional and void. However, the gag provisions of the WIPO Copyright and Performances and Phonograms Treaties Implementation Act have been upheld.

The trials of Guantanamo Bay suspects have also been subjected to a gag order, which has hindered public scrutiny.[7] Likewise, as part of a plea bargain John Walker Lindh consented to a gag order to not talk to the press or others.

United Kingdom

A gag order has been used to protect 'national security'. In the Allan Chappelow murder case, the trial was held mostly in camera and media were prevented from speculating on the case. The order was imposed after a "compelling case" made by prosecutors, despite overwhelming media opposition brought by a legal challenge to the ruling.[8][9][10] This criminal case has been thought to be the first in which a gagging order was imposed.[11]

See also

References

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