SBS Quizzed on “The Promise”

February 15, 2012 by J-Wire
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Victorian Liberal Senator Helen Kroger has said that SBS has appeared to have made a business decision to screen the controversial series “The Promise” even though reports said “it was offensive to the Jewish community”.

Senator Helen Kroger

Yesterday the Senator asked questions of Mr Michael Ebeid, Managing Director of the Special Broadcast Service (SBS) in Senate Estimates about the controversial screening of the documentary The Promise.

The series contrasts relations between Jews and Palestinians during the British mandate in the 1940s and the contemporary scenario.

As a result of questions by Senator Kroger, Mr Ebeid revealed that SBS entered into a pre-sale arrangement with the producers of The Promise in full knowledge that the subject matter was going to be controversial.

Questions by Senator Kroger also revealed that when SBS received a series of complaints about the documentary, an internal investigation was initiated to determine if the documentary would be aired. A decision was taken by the review board, which included Mr Ebeid, that SBS would go ahead with the screening.

“What is most concerning about the decision to air The Promise is that SBS appears to have put a business decision ahead of independent assessments which determined that it was offensive to the Jewish community,” Senator Kroger said.

“Equally concerning was Mr Ebeid‟s assertion that, with hindsight, he would make the same decision to put the program to air.”

“This documentary was portrayed as fact and any suggestion that it is merely fiction is even more offensive and is an overt slap in the face to the Jewish community.”

“Any suggestion that the Jewish community is ‘manipulative’ and ‘self interested’, as portrayed in The Promise, is shameful. This documentary fails to portray the continuing valuable and constructive contribution that the Jewish community makes in Australia.”

“This issue is not over. I will ask more detailed questions of the SBS on notice and try to get to the bottom of this lunacy”, Senator Kroger concluded.

During the questioning, Ebeid also conceded that SBS did not consult the Jewish community about the series but nevertheless the 6-person panel were “sure” that there was no negative stereotyping of Jews.


14 Responses to “SBS Quizzed on “The Promise””
  1. Gabrielle says:

    Even fiction should be credible. This one is not.

    The modern Israel was breathlessly inaccurate. Eg.Israelis living in Hollywood houses with swimming pools. (Nearly all Israelis live in flats).

    Every Israeli is rich, Israeli school children are throwing stones at the Arabs (what role reversals!). There was one terrorist attack but otherwise all Arabs were peace loving.

    The director oversimplified a complex situation. It resulted into a one sided story which in my view is dangerous.

    The historical Israel was the result of interviews with British soldiers who had to leave Palestine and therefore would not have been unbiased. Jews who lived through those events were not interviewed for that series.
    I think we should attack the facts not the personalities.

  2. Brokeback Mountain, The Adventures of Priscilla: Queen of the Desert and Monty Python’s Life of Brian were all considered highly offensive by various religious groups. Such was the offense by Monty Python that it was banned for eight years in Ireland, for a year in Norway and it was not released in Italy until 1990, eleven years after it was made.

    The hysteria that has arisen with certain sectors of the community and by Senators like Helen Kroger and Glenn Sterle over Peter Kosminky’s, The Promise is disturbing.

    Firstly there was the cry of anti-Semitism by the ECAJ, Friends of Israel (WA) and Sen Glenn Sterle. When this failed. This was followed by the cry (of Sen Helen Kroger) that The Promise was aired by SBS despite “independent assessments, which determined that it was offensive to the Jewish community” (The Australian 16 February 2012).

    Sen Kroger’s comments raise a number of issues. Firstly, what did the Senator mean when she said “independent assessments”? Larry Stillman has already responded to the question about consultation of affected communities –stating SBS does not arrange such consultation and such matters are considered internally.

    Secondly, there is the Senators misunderstanding of the SBS Code of Practice. Mere offense is not grounds to prohibit the airing of material on SBS. The SBS Code of Practice is clear:

    “SBS’s programming can be controversial and provocative and may at times be distasteful and offensive to some. Not all viewpoints presented will be shared by all audience members” (SBS Code of Practice 1.1)

    This is repeated again in SBS Code of Practice 1.2 – “Some subject matter broadcast by SBS may be controversial“.

    Instead of criticizing SBS, Senator Kroger, should be congratulating them for a job well done. Credit needs to be given to SBS management for the difficult job they do. It is not a job for the faint hearted. Australia has such a diverse society with spectrums of opinions and beliefs. This challenge is reflected in SBS Code of Practice 1.2:

    “SBS is for all Australians. Accordingly SBS is committed to broadcasting programs that reflect a diversity of experiences, lifestyles, beliefs, cultures and languages in Australia.”

    It is inevitable that the SBS will offend one group or another from time to time. Some groups may in fact always be offended by some material. Take for example some religious groups perspective on topics like homosexuality, abortion, gay marriage, stem cell research or political hot spots like the Middle East

    There needs to be a market place of ideas. The SBS (and the ABC) provide such a space for Australians. It is a national treasure as described by Senator Scott Ludlum.

    Some years back IQ2 held a debate titled “Freedom of Expression must include a license to offend”. Janet Albrechtsen, teamed up with the Reverend Peter Jensen, and Journalist David Marr (an unlikely debating team if ever there was one – but weren’t they good!). Albrechtsen speaking in the affirmative said:

    “Suppressing even the most offensive opinions won’t make them go away. They are driven underground where they avoid the blowtorch of robust public debate and often become more powerful as they fester.

    When we shut down offensive speech we lose the best possible method of demolishing bad ideas, namely demonstrating in a public forum why they are wrong. Free and full debate only kills bad ideas. It sustains and invigorates the good ones.”

    An integral part of a democracy is the freedom of expression.

    As supporters of a democracy we undermine the values we stand for if we try and shut down speech because we find it offensive.

    For a detailed rebuttal to he claims made by the ECAJ’s letter to the SBS about Peter Kosminky’s, ‘The Promise’ see:

    Thank you to Larry Stillman who has done an admirable job, as per usual, in presenting a balancing voice within the community.

    • Otto Waldmann says:

      What a majestic exercise in calculated fallacies. Mr Mills has a curious brand of courage to vent with gusto such a raft of irrational choices, extrapolations but, mainly incursions into some brand of ethics best articulated by known fascists.
      Stewart Mills feast of incongruities is so rich that one is at a loss where to start and what to leave out. I shall pick a few:

      -the elegant notion of “mere offence” is at once dismissed by the strong voices of SERIOUS offence. And here we must refine the quality of the objections.It seems that Stewart Mills and his ilk consider that Jewish strong objections ( with the notable exception of a certain Larry Stillman who is incredibly centrifugal to relevant Jewish voices !!) should be regarded as unworthy of serious consideration and relegated to the dismissable “mere”. That in itself shall characterise the general disposition of Stewart Mills (SM) and, in fact he does it in spades !
      – Ergo, SBS’s function and mission is accpeted as one of provocation (SM: “controversial”) , purveyors of offense (SM “offense”), devoid of taste (SM:”distasteful”) all as necessary functions in the SBS code, as seen and comfortably introduced by the same SM as the presumed social function of a Government sponsored intitution, a Government which by SM’s interprettaion is bent on prommoting : offense, bad taste, provocation of specific “cultural” , religious and ethic local groups. And ain’t that PRECISELY what multiculturalism is all about !!!See Code of Practice 1.2 which, according to the same fastidious Mr. MIlls , allows for communal subtle jolts of provocation and conflict, “simply” because that would be the nature of, what, competing ontological values !!!
      What is, then, even more abundantly absurd is some quote from a beacon of parliamentary philosophy, a certain dean of ethics, a Hegel of latter days, I presume, a certain senator, who projects the image of “real” democracy by allowing abhorent ideas and rhetoric to be expressed in that so called elegantly “market place” of ideas, because, according to him and our SM, THIS IS what deocracy looks like. Well Mr Mills , this offended Jew happens to know that the kind of “market place” of offensive ideas “necessarily” being aired in the open, was precisely the “place” where a ceratin Weimar Republic turned “miraculously” into a certain Third Reich.Going too far !!
      How would you know !!!

      • Otto I respect your dedication to ensuring fairness and justice for the Jewish community.

        However, on your analysis of ‘The Promise’ and on the issue of freedom of expression I respectfully disagree.

        There seems to be some confusion about the term ‘mere offense’. Mere offense means the action was limited to only offense and it did not include other aggravating circumstances.

        In the context of making a decision about conflicting perspectives there needs to be a balancing of the various perspectives. Does the offence caused to one section of a community outweigh the benefits of allowing others in the community to experience the drama?

        In the situation of ‘The Promise’ the merits of allowing freedom of expression were considered greater than any perceived harm. Whilst recognition needs to be given to the offence that one action may take. In the bigger picture that one part of one community felt offended is not of itself enough to prohibit the filming of a program.

        We live in a pluralistic society, there needs to be a balance between respect for difference and protecting those from harm. The Promise met that balance.

        Otto – I was disappointed that you chose the tactic of smearing those who think differently to you as using a “brand of ethics best articulated by known fascists”. That is totally inappropriate. Lazily throwing around the label fascist to any person who thinks differently on an issue is counter productive and not based on reason.

        Offensive conduct is distinguished from racist conduct. The limits of freedom of expression are when harm is created. This is the dividing line between what is accepted in a pluralist society not simply offense.

        For example racial vilification is made a crime because it is understood to be harmful (not that it is just offensive). However, there are exceptions. As per the HREOC website: “Offensive racially-based material is permitted in these fields provided the person communicating the material has acted “reasonably and in good faith”. Good faith generally means that there is no improper motive, such as malice.” Take for example the comedian Russell Peters. Peters is an Indian Canadian who makes humour out of racial stereotypes. In such situations a court would consider Peter’s actions as not racial vilification. For some it is humorous. For others it is offensive. This is the beauty of a pluralist society.

        • Otto – to answer your question – no – Russell Peters jokes about brown people, black people, white people, Jews and Asians is not a slippery slope to the Third Reich. The jokes are said in good faith and are meant to make light of ourselves. They are meant to celebrate our diversity not to squash us all into one monolithic cultural group.

          • Otto Waldmann says:

            Stewart – sadly one cannot detect acceptable norms in your reply cum defense of initial comments. While I do NOT expect your firm stance on altered categories to change as a result of my..mere reply, engrossing the false expressions by alluding to “respectibel” definitions and delving deeper in re-defining terms and notions along the same farcical lines, merely will not do !
            Here are some further comments regarding your last posting:

            – what is considered essentially “offensive” beyond the downgraded and seemingly acceptable – by your definitions – as “mere” is not only selective by prejudice, therefore misleading in intent, is precisely the choice of addressing the Jewish objections ( which in actual fact must NOT be qualified as singularly Jewish as they are universally logical !!) as an inferior quality, precisely by NOT considering the aggravating circumstances.
            In almost all objection to “Jewish” complaints there is an implicit and often explicit notion of a Jewish entity EXCESSIVELLY and UNWARRANTED in is type of reaction of “perceived” prejudice detected. You are perpetuating the same by dismissing the intensity of the offense to a cathegory , Jews.
            While I am reffering here to a specific group, the unveraslity still aplies, and that is contained in the necessity of comprehensive knowledge of any specific group when any univeral notions apply. Historic human intercourse has rendered certain specific groups distinct in their behaviour, reaction to certain stimuli !!!
            The Jewish circumstances MUST be considered in the same manner circumstances would be considered as offense given to other groups which contain SPECIFIC circumstances in a deterministic specific manner. I shall refer here to the offensive deterministic case of African Americans. In their case the circumstances have been determined to be SO speciifc and necessarily investigated and known that a new appelative has been created for the traditional “blacks”, “negroes” etc., terms acceptable not long ago and now, politically correct, NOT acceptable and, therefore, considered …offensive.
            Simply put, Jewish objections do not present themselves as a result of excessive, unreasonable, neurotic exercises or, indeed, as tactics of diminishing the value of their “attackesr”. They are real and can be found in the profoundly historical experiences of almost all Jews. Your dry and seemingly propper academic/legal approach is completely divested of any apparent knowledge and consideration of essential historic data which make the Jewish objection realistic and acceptable the same way an African American would hark back instantly and reflexively to his/her own psycho-historic determinism.
            – Racism in any form is the result and intent of malice !!
            – The fact that a certain Russell Peters attracts joy, aplause and some kind of “acceptance” is incredibly irrelevant to the sober, reliable debate on the public expression of lesser ethics. Just because a whole audience is entertained by someone’s pursuit of jocular comments, among them possibly negroes, indians etc., does not make the comment itself less offensive. That is to say that if the same “humorous” comments would be made in other circumsatnce, say a Parliament House in Canberra or Otawa, the “joker” would receive a totally different kind of acclaim. And thus we are dealing with the ACTUAL uttred word.You are making the same farcical analogy. If Russel Peters is acclaimed on stage, the same “pluralstic” expression is acceptable ANYWHERE else !!!
            It is to say that, you may find this Russel funny and acceptable, I would find him seriosuly offensive. Just because he is Indian does not make him funny when cracking racist “jokes”. I am passionate about humour, but ethnic jokes and also vaginal jokes preffered by “persecuted” feminist commediennes, so popular at the same venues, do NOT entertain me at all.
            – Further to your defect definitions, the accepted shapes and contents of a “drama” , again rendered acceptable within the implied notion of “artistic privileges”, fails to meet the norms of perceptions and encouragement of prejudice and group rejection as perceived by those not interested in the purity of the “art” but purity of “message” and its accepted vehiculation in that “democratic” market place.
            Pluralism, the way you seem to understand it, includes the accptance of anything akin to that fascism I was refering to and the clear FACT that purveyors of fascist ideas have not , sadly, dissapeared with the demise of their idols !! The fascists, neo-nazis etc. are quite vividly among us and they enjoy specifically the democratic pluralism that allows “mere” dramas to hurt and “merely” NOT offend their traditional target, yes, the Jews.
            We do not HAVE to accept “reality” as it emerges from dictionaries, while having them stuck on our bookshelves, but we do spend countless time studying, observing tangible uses and misuses of terms found in those disctionaries in the palpable “market place” of reality and, sometimes we are struck by the farcical misuse of ” mere terms”.
            As I said, your careful, fastidiuous incursion into matching terms with people you do not seem to know at all and , therefore,understand does little to address prejudice and misuse of rights and privileges.

    • Gabrielle says:

      Freedom of expression is not freedom to falsify history in the name of fiction. Or to create a largely inaccurate and one sided picture of the present.

  3. Adrian says:

    Please give up your detractors the drama series has been shown, with good ratings I assume and it will be repeated this year I am sure. Just because a few did not like it does not mean a thing. Senator Kroger is a light weight and her preformance on Q&A last Monday (14 Feb 12) was appauling. She was only preselected as a Liberal Senator because she was once married to Michael Kroger. SBS and ABC are what I watch almost exclusively now as the content is so good. This is confirmed when the commercial station poach good show from the government stations (eg) The Graham Norton Show recently.

  4. Otto Waldmann says:

    There are two simple alternatives here:

    1- Larry Stillman simply is unable to comprehend the nature, substance and purpose of “The Promise” and thus invites negative comments regarding his intelligence.

    2 – Larry Stillman undertands pretty well what “The Promise” is all about, but enjoys supporting the anti Israeli and firmly anti Semitic purpose of the series.

    In both cases the usefulness of Larry Stillman’s position to the genuine Jewish interests is rendered offensive. You may wonder how alternative #1 could be offensive. It normally isn’t,but in Larry Stillman’s case, his persistance in that respective vein DOES make it offensive.

  5. Ben says:

    “offensive to the Jewish community”; that is a new one. The earlier excuse was “causing distress to survivors of the holocaust”. So anything that takes a factual look at Palestine should be banned because it is”offensive”. Great red herring; if the series is untrue sue SBS for libel.
    This on top of the fact that the director is Jewish and actors are Jewish and Israeli.

  6. Harry says:

    So much for SBS being a multicultural broadcaster, purportedly promoting intercultural understanding and respect!

  7. Larry Stillman says:

    You are making a fundamental mistake here. It was not a documentary, but in SBS’s own words, ‘a political thriller’. I think a historical drama is better.

    Your reporting of questioning of Ebeid is also inaccurate. I watched the hearing. When questioned whether SBS consulted the affected communities (I think that was the term, but not ONLY Jews), Ebeid said that they don’t do such consultation. Such matters are considered internally by management and fair enough.

    Kroger’s business decision comment was just her opinion, not fact, because SBS did not know how many DVDs or what have you it would sell after the program.

    You also failed to note that other Senators were not hostile to The Promise and in fact, thought it was good.

    The hearings were an attempt at a beat up which I think fizzled in its attempt to implicate SBS in anything particularly evil other than showing a program about a very contested period between three sets of interests: British soldiers, Jews, and Palestinians.

    • admin says:


      We called it a series

      The Senator called it a documentary.

      We agree it was far from being a documentary.

      However, the position still stands that it is arguable that it is a dramatic series with a debatable agenda.

  8. Otto Waldmann says:

    Most welcome Senator Kroger’s intervention,but a bit late.
    It shows,however, the essentials in SBS policies, ethics, arrogance and, in actual fact, disdain for acountability, all of which were also pretty much known in advance of the screening of “The Pomise”.
    A good belated start of something…but what !!??

    Must come back, once again, to the REAL effectivenes and EFFICIENCY of the Jewish communal leadership. Who knows, perhaps they are still drinking hot chocolate celebrating the Marricville incredible succes in having David Landau promote NIF……
    Must come back also to the palpable reality that those who are set up to cause Jews tzures,know too well that they are dealing with a VERY soft, unimpressive quantity with NO impressive ONE person among the Jewish fold making a real impression to the “outside” world. Some groisse machers among us may reckon they are impressive, but it is like the “Captain”joke. By them they are a captain, but by a captain they ain’t !!

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