Bittersweet triumph for Walkley winners

FORMER AJN editor Dan Goldberg this week described winning a Walkley Award with filmmaker Danny Ben-Moshe for his documentary on child abuse in Melbourne’s Yeshivah community as a bittersweet career highlight.

The pair scooped the prestigious accolade, recognising excellence in journalism, for their film Code of Silence, which follows the parallel journeys of Manny Waks, and his father Zephaniah, after Waks publicly revealed he had been a victim of child sexual abuse, exposing a history of abuse and cover-ups at the institution.

The documentary traces Waks’ quest for justice and the alienation experienced by the family as a result.

Awarding Code of Silence the prize for best documentary, the judges said the work was “exceptional because of the access negotiated with key players as the drama unfolded”.

“It contributes to public understanding of the magnitude of the failure across institutions, both religious and secular, to protect children because of a more dominant reputational defensiveness.”

Describing winning the award as “the pinnacle” of his career, Goldberg told The AJN, “I have been a journalist all my working life. I am still a journo, the only difference is that it’s film not words.” He added that as a journalist he felt that he had “a duty to shine a light in dark corners of society and be a voice for the voiceless”.

“I hope this film speaks for all those victims who, for whatever reason, have as yet been unable to speak out.”

Reflecting on the accolade he said, “It was bittersweet to receive an award for a story we wish we never had to make.”

The sentiment was echoed by Ben-Moshe, who told The AJN, “Through actuality and interview, the documentary effectively breaks the ‘code of silence’ which had prevailed to cover up abuse in this close-knit community.

“I hope the success from the Walkleys and the ongoing success that the film has will help in healing and justice, not just for the Waks family, but for all families affected.”

Ben-Moshe said that while he is on a genuine high from the award, he is nonetheless concerned by communal attitudes to the Walkleys.

“Jewish organisations and leaders in our community have been quick to criticise stories from the Walkleys that condemn Israel, which I don’t have a problem with.

“But I haven’t heard anything from those organisations and leaders criticising Yeshivah.

“So how is there the time and energy for that, [and yet] no one will stand up and say, ‘hey Yeshivah, this film showed X, Y and Z, and leaders who were there at the time it was going on are still there. Your spiritual leader, who was criticised in court as shown in the film, is still your spiritual leader.’”

You can watch Code of Silence at www.abc.net.au/compass/s4052743.htm.

Meanwhile, community leaders have slammed Walkley Award judges for honouring what they claim are one-sided stories by News Limited’s John Lyons and Fairfax’s Ruth Pollard.

“The decision to bestow what was once considered this nation’s highest journalistic honour on skewed pieces that are replete with distortions and contain blatant factual errors and glaring omissions only serves to further discredit and devalue the Walkley Awards,” the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council’s executive director Colin Rubenstein said.

Lyons won the best investigative journalism award for the ABC Four Corners and Australian reports “Stone Cold Justice”, which claim to reveal evidence that shows the Israeli army is targeting Palestinian children for arrest and detention.

Claiming that Israel runs two different justice systems, one for Israelis and one for Palestinians, the story alleged that Israel tortured, humiliated and threatened Palestinian minors

“The fact the judges could have considered these flawed contributions the best of the best – where sensationalism, dramatic half-truths and compassionate posturing appear to trump reliable professionalism and a primary devotion to truth and factual accuracy- makes one worry for the state of journalism in this country,” said Rubenstein.

Pollard won her award for best feature writing short (under 4000 words) for her piece, “Grief grips Gaza”, which looked at Palestinian families affected by the recent conflict between Israel and Hamas.

According to reports in The Australian: “Pollard’s feature on Gaza was so controversial when it was published it prompted a flood of readers to cancel subscriptions to The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.”

Zionist Federation of Australia president Danny Lamm said Pollard was praised for courageous journalism, “but there is nothing courageous about a report penned in Gaza’s [Al-Shifa] Hospital but ignored the simple fact that the same hospital has, for a number of years already, been home to Hamas’s de facto headquarters deep in its underground bunkers.

“Another journalist spent a night in the [Al-Shifa] Hospital just a few days before Pollard’s article went to print. This journalist reported that Hamas was firing rockets from the carpark of the hospital – just one of many aspects about this hospital which Pollard omitted to report.”

He added, “A more courageous story would have been one which exposed the way in which Hamas intimidated journalists into telling their narrative.”

JOSHUA LEVI AND ADAM BLAU

From left: Danny Ben-Moshe, Manny Waks and Dan Goldberg.