What the ECAJ tried to outsmart: the ruling from the UK complaints authority about "The Promise"

Len-the promiseThe AJDS has come into possession of the investigation and decision from OfCom, the UK electronic media Complaints Authority, concerning “The Promise” (attached below). This investigation was carried out in response to complaints made about the program in the UK, including that of the British (Jewish) Board of Deputies (the correspondence with Channel 4 who broadcast the program can be seen here) We understand that the ruling was issued at the start of April 2011.
We are not quite sure why the ruling was not made publicly available on the OfCom website, as it is similar to other rulings they conduct, and paticularly since it was quoted in the press and seems to have been available to the ECAJ who dismiss it it in their letter of complaint to SBS management. Be that as it may, it is important that issues around The Promise” be shared as widely as possible.
We suggest that you read the Ofcom document and then compare it to the ECAJ complaint. Ofcom is well experienced with hate speech in the electronic media, as a perusal of its Bulletin makes clear.
In its letter published here, says “Ofcom recognises that many portrayals by UK broadcasters of the history of and current situation in Israel and neighbouring territories are controversial – whether in non-fiction or as here drama programmes. I can assure you that Ofcom took your complaint, and all the other complaints, about this series very seriously. ”
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In response to the ECAJ’s attempt to take the program literally, as a kind of documentary (and thus get stuck into its historical accuracy) OfCom said:
“The context of the programme was important: the characters were appearing in a complex fictional dramatic narrative seen through the eyes of two related people in different historical eras. We considered that the likely expectation of the potential audience to the series would have been to view the series as providing the experiences of these two fictional characters in Palestine/Israel, and was not a documentary or current affairs programme analysing the complex situation in that part of the world. In addition, we noted that the series was shown on a channel known for its hard-hitting and challenging drama, and which has a special statutory remit to make and broadcast high quality and diverse programming”
With respect to the potential of the program to cause incitement, the ruling also said:
“Some complainants considered that the series would incite racial hatred and lead to increased attacks on British Jews. We considered that within the series, there were Jewish/Israeli characters and their actions that, arguably, that could have led to members of the Jewish faith, or the Israeli State, being perceived in a negative light to some degree. However, we noted that the same could be said of the how the series treated British and Palestinian characters and their actions. We recognise that some viewers might have been upset by the portrayal of some Jewish and Israeli characters and their actions. By extension, we also note that such viewers considered that the negative aspects of the Jewish/Israeli characters could be interpreted as criticisms of the Jewish faith and the Israeli nation more widely. However, Ofcom believed that portrayal of members of the Jewish faith and/or Israeli nation featured in the series, would not, on a reasonable view, be likely to encourage or incite the commission of a crime (e.g. harm or prejudice against members of the Jewish faith), given the context of the series, namely, that it was a serious fictional drama.”
Please share the Ofcom document as widely as possible in the public interest and defense of not just open discussion of the Israel-Palestine conflict, but free speech in general. The whole episode may be one that should be used in media education.
Larry Stillman

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