ABC News: ‘Sorry for lapse’

The ABC studios in Ultimo, Sydney. Photo: AAP Image/Tracey Nearmy

IN an unprecedented move, a senior ABC employee contacted the Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ) to apologise for a recent segment on ABC radio that broke the organisation’s editorial standards for accuracy.

Last month, left-wing Israeli political activist Orly Noy and Australia Palestine Advocacy Network’s Sara Saleh were interviewed together on ABC’s Radio National program.

During the interview, Noy claimed that Mizrahi Jews are excluded in Israel and that Mizrahi Jews “are still at the bottom of the social, economical, political hierarchy in Israel”.

Orly Noy.

Saleh backed up Noy’s claim, saying that Israel is built on racial hierarchy “at the expense of brown and black bodies alike”.

However, noting that Mizrahi Jews – “and Arab citizens” – have exactly the same voting, legal, civil and religious rights as Jews of European background, ECAJ informed the ABC that they are “prominent in government, in politics, the media, academia, culture business, sport, religion and the military”.

It was also noted in the ECAJ complaint that there have been three Mizrahi presidents of Israel and that a number of Mizrahi Jews have served as the country’s chief of staff.

“The ABC Code … states ‘A democratic society depends on diverse sources of reliable information and contending opinions’,” the complaint said.

“The interview manifestly failed to meet the standard that it would not ‘unduly favour one perspective over another’.

“Indeed, the interviewees agreed with each other ‘absolutely’ (to use their own word), and the presenter did not put any contrary facts or perspectives to the interviewees to respond to.”

In the wake of the complaint, an investigations manager from ABC’s Audience and Consumer Affairs division “concluded that the broadcast omitted material context and therefore was not in keeping with the ABC’s editorial standard for accuracy”.

The investigator went on to say that “while there are claims of discrimination towards Mizrahi Jews, it is also well documented that Mizrahi Jews have been and continue to be prominent in Israeli society, including in politics, business and the military”.

“ABC News apologise for this lapse.”

Meanwhile, ABC’s acting executive producer Emily Bourke took the unusual step of personally calling ECAJ co-chief executive officer Peter Wertheim to apologise, and assured him that it would not happen again.

Wertheim told The AJN that Bourke “expressed concern with several aspects of the interview … and emphasised that the matters we had raised had been discussed extensively within the ABC and were being taken very seriously”.

“This is the first time during my 10 years at the ECAJ that we have been called personally by an executive producer of a high-rating news and current affairs program to respond to a complaint, the first response that has been so sympathetic to what we were saying, and the first to result in a speedy right of reply,” Wertheim said.

“This is a refreshing change from the adversarial manner in which our complaints have previously been dealt with, and we commend the ABC for it.”

Following the call, Radio National interviewed Israel’s Deputy Chief of Mission Ron Gerstenfeld.

“The issue of Mizrahi Jews is not an issue in Israel,” Gerstenfeld insisted.

Responding to the claim that there is state-sanctioned discrimination against Mizrahi Jews, he said, “This is completely not aligned with the truth.

“[On the] contrary, Israel did whatever it could in the first year of its establishment to bring the Mizrahi Jews, to support them, to give them refuge in Israel.”

Reflecting that there are problems, as in every country, Gerstenfeld disputed that Mizrahi people are singled out and noted that Israel has migrants from 80 different countries.

“Everybody that came, including Ashkenazi Jews, had to give up some of their identity and became Israeli Sabra and leave behind some fraction of his identity.”

As part of ABC’s apology, an editor’s note was added to the online story featuring the original interview stating, “ABC News acknowledges that this broadcast did not provide sufficient context on the status of Mizrahi Jews in Israel; it is well documented that Mizrahi Jews are prominent in business, politics, and the military and they have the same voting, legal, civil and religious rights as Jews of European background.”