The Media gets a thumbs up

March 9, 2010 by Susan Bures
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As Spiderman and Superman both worked in newspapers and both had Jewish parents (creators), it’s no wonder that the Jewish community thinks that journalists are superheroes, fighting for justice and truth.

Henry Benjamin, Rabbi Jeremy Lawrence Rachel Kohn, Vic Alhadeff and Zeddy Lawrence

But in the words of Australian Jewish News editor Zeddy Lawrence, the media can make mistakes.

“It’s not that the media necessarily let us down, but that your expectations of the media might be too high.”

Zeddy was arguing for the negative at the first of the Great Debates Series II on the media.

In an entertaining and informative evening, the 80-strong audience were given an insight into the world of the media from high profile Jewish journalists including Zeddy, Dr Rachel Kohn from the ABC, Henry Benjamin, founder and editor of J-Wire and Vic Alhadeff, former AJN editor and now CEO of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies.

With Rabbi Jeremy Lawrence as the gavel-wielding host, the four argued the proposition that “The media lets us down”.

In the end, the negative won by acclamation, but it was a close fought debate.

Zeddy Lawrence continued his defence of the media by arguing that this includes the positive good media can do on behalf of a community, particularly the Jewish media. But members of the community should be aware that Jewish newspapers are not only read by a Jewish audience and they must tread a careful line on some debates.

Henry Benjamin, for the proposition, argued that newspapers are businesses and need to make profits.

“So the media want to give the market exactly what it wants, and to some degree Israel is the sacrificial lamb.”

The media fails to focus on other trouble spots in the world where shocking events are occurring, to concentrate disproportionately on Israel.

“But in the end, the media select the truth that sells.

Also arguing for the positive, Vic Alhadeff said the media are about “headlines, a local angle and beating the opposition”.

He said the majority of Jewish media consumers believe Israel is not dealt with fairly and that they have, indeed, frequently let us down.

Arguing for the negative, Dr Rachel Kohn pointed out that she has been given freedom at the ABC to present any topics in her various religious programs and that they have been disproportionately about Jews, Judaism and Jewish attitudes.

She believes this is because Jews are “hungry for knowledge” and around the world many of the great achievers are Jews.

As an example of the ABC’s attitude to this concentration on Jewish matters in her programs, she explained that in 2008 she was permitted to go to Israel for its 60th anniversary and record six programs, each of which was played.

“With programs like these, the ABC has been tremendous in allowing this disproportionate support for Jewish issues,” she said.

She also made a strong case for supporting public broadcasters like the ABC because they are “not open to corruption by advertising” and in other ways.

For the guests, Rabbi Lawrence produced a fascinating pamphlet on Jewish sources concerned with honest reporting, quoting from T’nach and Talmud and other sources a surprising list of admonitions and advice from rabbis throughout the centuries on and around the issue, finishing with a dictum of Rabbi Yisrael Salanter: “It is quite easy to write but far more difficult to erase.”

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