SBS rules that “The Promise” does not vilify Jews or Israelis

February 1, 2012 by  
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An internal investigation by SBS into complaints of anti-Jewish racism associated with the four-part series The Promise, broadcast in late 2011, has concluded that “the series does not, demonise Jews either individually or as a collective, nor deny their individual and collective right to self determination and therefore does not vilify Jews or Israelis.”
In dismissing the complaints, the SBS Complaints Committee found that the series did not violate the SBS Codes of Practice and that “the ordinary reasonable viewer fully appreciated that The Promise was a fictional drama and nothing more than that”. It also noted that “accuracy per se is not a Code requirement in respect of a drama such as The Promise.”
In a 7-page response to the Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ), which had submitted a 31-page complaint to the SBS Ombudsman, SBS described it as “an oversimplification to cast the drama as being bad Jews versus good Palestinians.”
However, the Executive Director of the ECAJ, Peter Wertheim, described the SBS response as “disappointing and unsatisfactory”.
“SBS has simply failed to address many of our principal contentions,” Wertheim said. “They have failed to engage in detail with any of the 75 examples of negative stereotyping of Jews which we provided to them. I am also surprised that SBS has suggested that it is acceptable to portray entire nations in a negative light as a part of a dramatic work. One wonders which other nations will be next in line for vilification masked as drama. SBS is supposed to be committed to social inclusion.”
Wertheim challenged the SBS complaints handling process. “Five of the seven members of the SBS complaints committee were from senior management and were clearly not at arm’s length, even though their bona fides are not in question. Further, these managers lack the expertise and insight to deal adequately with complaints of racism,” Wertheim said.
The ECAJ complaint was not about the controversial history that forms the backdrop to the series, according to Wertheim. “It is the use of discriminatory stereotypes to deal with that history that was our central objection. All of the principal Jewish characters are ultimately portrayed in a stereotypically negative way. If a series about the Israel-Palestinian conflict portrayed all of its Arab characters and their supporters as murderous terrorists, betrayers and thieves, perhaps the racism would have been more evident to SBS.”
Wertheim also took issue with the Complaints Committee’s conclusion that the audience would have fully appreciated that The Promise was a fictional drama, and nothing more, pointing to the description of the series that had previously appeared on the SBS website, “The Promise: Political History’”, which was later removed, and adding, “I have a collection of media and online comments from viewers which signify that they were misled into believing that the series is a documentary, or else a factual and accurate account of historic and current events.”
Wertheim dismissed claims that the ECAJ’s complaint was intended to “censor” the series. “Our entire complaint was in the public domain as soon as we sent it and we welcome the debate about the series”, Wertheim said. “The more scrutiny it receives, the more apparent its flaws become”.
Wertheim said that the ECAJ had not demanded that the sale of the DVD of the series should be banned regardless of the outcome of its complaint. “We asked only that the marketing and promotion of the DVD be suspended until the complaint was decided. SBS itself did not suggest that this request was unreasonable. On the contrary, they assured us that our complaint would be assessed before sales of the DVD were due to commence. If the complaint had been upheld, SBS would not have been in a position to promote material that had been found to violate its own Codes of Practice.”
Describing as “completely false” claims that the ECAJ had threatened to refer the issue to a Senate Estimates Committee, Wertheim said “We made no threats. The Senate Estimates Committee reviews SBS and other government-funded bodies on a regular basis and will make its own decisions about what matters it wants to investigate”.
Asked about the ECAJ’s controversial reference to the Nazi propaganda film Jud Süss, Wertheim responded, “This was solely to illustrate that even a film that has been nominated for a prestigious award and has received acclaim can be racist to the core. We do not suggest that the nature and severity of the anti-Jewish stereotyping is the same in each film.”
“Not every criticism of Israel is antisemitic”, Wertheim continued. “It is equally false to suggest that no criticism of Israel is antisemitic. There is clearly some overlap. One test is whether the criticism makes use of anti-Jewish stereotypes. The Promise certainly does so.”
Under the SBS Codes of Practice, the ECAJ may appeal to the Australian Communications and Media Authority, but Wertheim ruled out an appeal.
“Complaints alleging a breach of SBS Code 1.3 should be able to be referred to a different body with specialist knowledge and experience in dealing with racism,” Wertheim said.
According to SBS, The Promise was produced in association with SBS TV “although SBS had no editorial control over the production”.

A spokesperson for SBS told J-Wire: “We can only confirm that all complaaints about the program have been responded to. The sale of the DVD will go ahead as planned. In any event, it is available in many countries.”

J-Wire features a Q&A with the writer/director of “The Promise” on our front home page video section.


13 Responses to “SBS rules that “The Promise” does not vilify Jews or Israelis”
  1. Liat Nagar says:

    Thank you for you comments, Michael Burd. And I agree with you about the problem that exists about many Jewish people keeping their heads down rather than defending themselves and their beliefs vigorously. To complain amongst one another and then perhaps give up after a rebuttal is a real dilemma if we seek to have justice, and ultimately could also affect our survival. Remembering history should be enough to show us that.,

  2. Adrian says:

    SBS has made the correct decision in rejecting the complaint from ECAJ and an ALP Senator for WA.

  3. There are countries in which mere claims that a broadcast program has offended Moslem sensitivities are enough to evoke apologies from authorities and cancellation of repeat broadcast.

    SBS may be inclined similarly, – – – but not in the case of factual, formal, forensic complaints from Jewry.

    • Otto Waldmann says:

      While you are right in essence, the “forensic” in this particular case is nowhere to be seen. Mind you, it is a Jewish speciality nevertheless.I said it once ot twice: ” They have Al Fatah, Al Jeezira, Al Ahram, we have Al Sueyou”, not that our lawyers seem all that good in the forum when it comes to Jewish matters. They are, perhaps, too busy being fantastic communal leaders.

  4. Otto Waldmann says:

    Forget Shelley, John Adams, Napoleon, Abe Lincoln ( do NOT forget Graucho) because NOBODY is better at writing letters than our tough, merciless, INOVATIVE and, above all, V I G O R O U S communal LETTER WRITERS !!!
    Somehow I reckon that me mate Peter feels that 31 pages were a triffle insuficient.
    Anyone surprised that most of this missive mission ain’t quite cutting it !!??

    Write me a letter with your opinion !!!!

    On the other hand, me other mate, Paul, is a lot closer to a necessary change in strategies.

    I have some even more daring ideas which, I know that if shared with youse guys, will be so cordially, enthusiastically received and put into practice at once, so much so that I cannot wait to release them.
    Letter is in the mail !!!

  5. Michael Burd says:

    Well done and Kol Hakvod Liat Nagar for taking the trouble and effort in writing your complaint to the SBS no doubt that would have taken a lot of time and effort to prepare.

    It is a shame we still have so many Jews here like the one that has written to the AJN this week condemning the great work of the ECAJ and indirectly yours for standing up for Jewish Human Rights .

    Unfortunately Jews like this AJN letter writer would rather turn the other cheek , not rock the boat hide under a rock and not speak up and let the anti- Semites have a free reign to incite hatred toward us . Its a shame the AJN letter writer didn’t use all that time and energy criticizing his fellow Jews to write to SBS questioning whether they would ever dare run a anti- Palestinian/Arab/ Muslim propaganda program.
    I would have thought after our history we Jews would have learn t to stand up and be counted I guess there are still many that have learn t from our sad history and still live in the past.

  6. Yosi Tal says:

    Senate Estimates will be an interesting place to be when Michael Obeid rocks up for his interrogation.One would hope that the use of tax payers money for the villification of Jewish people is not something that most of our Political Representatives are prepared to accept.

  7. Rita says:

    Is anyone surprised???

    This tax payer financed “public broadcaster” sees nothing wrong in actively promoting anti-western propaganda, why should they be squeemish about offending a few Jews!

    Stand by now for SBS screening the film version of “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion”.

  8. Michael Burd says:

    THE Bottom line is Jews can be vilified , stereo typed or made targets for people to incite hatred and violence against because they are easy targets.The most Jews who feel vilified will do is write a letter or two.
    Jews won’t threaten or intimidate SBS staff, will not blow up SBS buildings, won’t march in the streets and burn effigies of the makers of the propaganda films. Jews wont cause violence and mayhem .
    I guess it is only a coincidence the small SBS board includes two Arab/ Muslims but no Zionist Jews for balance. I guess Jews are not considered multicultural because they have not bribed gangsters and arrived in Australia by Leakey boat or come form war torn countries where their fellow country men massacre each other because of intolerance and racism.

    SBS, ABC and Fairfax are a lost cause their anti -Zionism ,is too well entranced from the top down . Unless you are a America /Israel hater , Labour /Green voter, Arabist you would not be working for any of these ratbag organizations.

  9. Liat Nagar says:

    I received what sounds like the same 7 page letter from the SBS Ombudsman in replay to my letter of complaint. My complaint was in regard to the same assertions Peter Wertheim made, and interestingly I had provided evidence from a published Preview article in ‘The Age’s Green Guide regarding ‘The Promise’ to show how the previewer, Tim Elliott was affected by the drama to the extent that he confused fiction with fact by speaking of Israel today and responding with sarcasm to a particular scene in the film as if it were fact. This is significant when one considers that the SBS response is grounded in the fact that “an ordinary, reasonable viewer”, ‘a person of fair average intelligence, who is neither perverse, nor morbid or suspicious of mind, nor avid for scandal, does not live in an ivory tower but can and does read between the lines’, would understand the series as being fiction.

    My comment comprised the following: “The fact that ‘The Promise’ might be deemed to be fiction is of no moment. Viewers are influenced by it as if it were purely factual, as evidenced by a Preview in ‘The Age’s’ Green Guide to television viewing, inciting viewers to watch the last episode on SBS1 on Sunday, December 18 – see below:
    ‘As a comment on modern Israel, it’s hard to look past the wire mesh installed above the Palestinian markets in Hebron’s Old City to catch rubbish hurled down by the Jewish settlers from the apartments above — dirty nappies, broken glass, rocks. Try to talk to the Palestinians who live there, as Erin Matthews (Claire Foy) does tonight, and there’s every chance you’ll wear a bag of warm urine; Mazzel tov! This excellent four-part series sees young Erin travel to Israel to explore the role of her soldier grandfather, Len, in the postwar British Mandate of Palestine, the Len-Erin dynamic is highly effective, establishing a parallel narrative that allows director Peter Kosminsky to explore Len’s conflicted experience while opening a window into contemporary Israel. Tonight, in the loaded final episode, Erin commandeers former Israeli soldier and part-time lover Paul to help find the family of Mohamed, a Palestinian Arab whom Len befriended 60 years ago.”

    I went on to comment in my letter to SBS Ombudsman that ‘looking at this Preview closely you can see the ‘previewer’, Tim Elliott, is confusing fiction and fact. His comments embrace both the fictional narrative of the film and facts ‘assumed’ to be there that somehow in his mind transfer to truth. Consider the written reaction to ‘a bag of warm urine’ being thrown on anyone trying to talk to Palestinians: Mazel tov! (Hebrew for ‘good wishes/congratulations), the previewer’s sarcastic innate response. Is this, and perhaps more virulent responses, something that SBS wants to incite with its programming?’
    The SBS Ombudsman reply to this was as follows:
    “Your complaint also referred SBS to a preview of the program in ‘The Age’s’ Green Guide.//That complaint was investigated and reviewed specifically.’

    I fail to see how all this stands up against their finding based on the response of ‘a person of fair average intelligence’ etc. It’s quite obvious in the case I’ve described that the fiction was being used in relation to what the previewer considered ‘a comment on modern Israel’, thereby politicising it.

    I do intend to take this matter further. I am also a professional writer, well versed in the arts and creativity, and I don’t agree with the SBS assertion that this series was ‘a high quality drama series’. The characterisation was wooden and lacking in dimension, the storyline set in modern Israel clumsily contrived and disconnected, and in good quality drama rhetoric of any kind, let alone political rhetoric should never be seen to be a motivating force – the fiction as a story should be the prime motivating factor, which has all its own necessary creative elements to satisfy. So, I’m not sure how many members of the Board who made this decision regarding the excellence of the drama were qualified to do so. The SBS findings therefore are open to question on two counts.

  10. Robert says:

    Anybody surprised?
    The correspondence on their own website showed that people did take the progam as historical and only the most one eyed ideologue could claim there was no demonisation.
    Arab propoganda was presented as fact, with amongst others,that all was well “till the Jews came”.It was in their movie,as they made no reference to Arab pogroms or the fact that Jews were there continuously for millenia and they slaughtered Jews long before they came up with their current excuses.
    Anyone seeing this would walk away at best, with the usual antisemitic libel about all Jews being rich and heartless while Arabs are peace loving, salt of the earth,caring &sharing.
    Any cursory examanition of the daily body count in the ME sould enlighten them.

  11. Rita says:

    Is anyone surprised???

    This tax payer financed “public broadcaster” sees nothing wrong in actively promoting anti-western propaganda, why should they be squeemish about offending a few Jews!

    Stand by now for SBS screening the film version of “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion”.

  12. Paul Winter says:

    Wertheim is wrong in not pursuing the complaint before the Australian Communications and Media Authority, before the Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission and through parliamentarians. A series of good old-fashioned demonstrations in front of the SBS building in Artarmon would also be appropriate.

    It was perhaps unrealistic to expect antisemites to admit to being antisemitic, so the 31 pages was just an exercise in letting off steam and frustration.

    I have a good mind to take the matter to the HREAC myself, because juxtaposing Nazis and the IDF was extremely offensive to a Holocaust survivor like myself.

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