THE SBS Complaints Committee, including SBS ombudsman Sally Begbie, has found that The Promise did not violate SBS’s Code of Practice because it was neither anti-Semitic nor racist, and any reasonable viewer would recognise the series is fictional drama.
But the finding flies in the face of the comments from viewers on SBS’s website, who believe the series is a factual account of history.
“Surprised to see such an honest and well-balanced account of the lead-up to the birth of the State of Israel. Congratulations to SBS for being brave enough to put on film just a glimpse of what the Palestinian people are still suffering today,” a viewer from Melbourne posted.
Another from South Australia went one step further. “Accurate and realistic given 60 years ago. My Australian family now know why my feelings are strong in a particular direction. After being in Greece and involved with the KKE (the Communist Party of Greece). I was stationed in Palestine and can vouch for the high degree of sympathy for the Palestinians and the mixed sympathy and dislike of the Jewish tactics. Especially after the booby-trapping of hung soldiers, and hand grenades rolled down inside cinemas while wounded men were the patrons.”
Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ) executive director Peter Wertheim, who submitted a 31-page complaint to the ombudsman, described the decision 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.”
He also challenged the complaints 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.”
Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC) executive director Dr Colin Rubenstein expressed his disappointment in the decision, “given that even SBS has conceded in its response to complaints that Jews were painted in a negative light in The Promise”.
“It should be discredited for misrepresenting history and its crude propaganda inflaming anti-Jewish stereotypes,” he said.
Writing in this month’s Australia/Israel Review, AIJAC’s director of international and community affairs Jeremy Jones wrote, “If letters to the editors, blog postings and other available data are any indication, this reinvention of reality reinforced some of the worst anti-Jewish bigotry, undermined attempts at mutual understanding, and counteracted the values of tolerance SBS has often professed and championed.
“If only those who put so much laudable effort into debunking anti-Asian racism put the same energy into analysing The Promise, perhaps SBS would not have used Australian taxpayer money to bring it to our airwaves and keep promoting it.”
The ECAJ has the right to file a complaint with the Australian Communications and Media Authority, however Wertheim ruled out taking the issue further.
A scene from The Promise