Everybody loves question time
No prize for guessing what the attitude was of the 150 or so attendees at the talk by The Age’s Editor- in- Chief, Paul Ramadge, to the Plenum of the JCCV (Jewish Community Council of Victoria) on Monday night. He was the ‘roo’ in the spotlight, feeling the heat as they flung repeated accusations of pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel and anti-Semitic editorial/journalistic bias as their reasons for cancellations of their Age subscriptions.
The accusations from the floor following Ramadge’s talk were that The Age had issued apologies and retractions reluctantly, belatedly and unprominently whenever it made mistakes in fact or errors of judgement; that Michael Backman’s material should never have been published; that the reporting of the demos over ‘7 Jewish Children’ had been biased as a result of lies fed to Andra Jackson; that Jason Koutsoukis was unprofessional in exhorting Barack Obama to take ‘a big stick’ to the Middle-East conflict; that Barney Zwartz was a ‘lightweight’; that no one wanted to read Amin Saikal; that Colin Rubenstein wasn’t given as much space as Malcolm Fraser; that the Sensible Jew shouldn’t be given any space regarding its complaints of suppression of debate in the Jewish community; that Hamas members were being referred to as ‘militants’ rather than ‘terrorists’, etc, etc.
Ramadge managed to maintain his equilibrium despite getting this roasting, speaking sotto voce, ‘taking things on board’, urging complainants to write to him, describing the difficulties of editorial discretion and judgement, supporting the journos at The Age, and firmly repudiating any suggestions of anti-Semitism amongst members of his organization. He also distinguished between the ideological bias of News Ltd’s The Australian newspaper and Fairfax’s more objective reportage and opinion. At this point John Searle and Danny Lamm opined that ‘the problem’ was to be found in a layer of decision-making somewhere between Ramadge and the journos. It was amongst this layer that acceptance of offensive stereotyping and inclusion of irrelevant associations in reports were to be found. They instanced a recent article where a Jewish person deserving of sympathy was unfairly and irrelevantly associated with a Jewish female educator who had had child-abuse allegations made against her. I was in agreement with them as to its offensiveness, and Ramadge fortunately was as well, and agreed that he would look into this problem.
One man called for a show of hands as to who in the audience thought The Age was balanced and unbiased in its coverage of matters of concern to the Jewish community. I put up my hand and then reluctantly another two hands went up very slowly. He then asked for a show of hands as to who thought The Age was biased and unbalanced and every hand in the room except for mine and the other two went up. Eventually I got to speak in the question time following Ramadge’s talk and said that the AJDS represented a significant minority viewpoint in the community and had every right to have its opinions heard as being reflective of community diversity, that I was pleased The Age had published my letter (in support of Amin Saikal’s proposal for a nuclear-free Middle-East) last Thursday, that the AJDS recognized The Age made mistakes occasionally but that we were fairly pleased with its coverage of issues of relevance to the Jewish community and that we didn’t have any problems with Jason Koutsoukis or before him, Ed O’Loughlin. There were hoots of derision at this point from the audience and I asked Ramadge whether he’d ever experienced intimidation or personal vilification from Melbourne Jews over The Age’s coverage of events. I observed that the standards of civil discourse weren’t always high within our community and that the AJN seemed to turn a blind eye to ad hominem excesses.
Ramadge said that he thought my comments indicated that he wasn’t the only brave person present (many had said how brave he was to come and talk with the JCCV) and that he thought I’d raised some good points about minority viewpoints and the importance of their inclusion. He said that he hadn’t suffered any personal threats or vilification and that Danny Lamm and John Searle always conducted themselves very professionally whenever they came to see him (as it appears they do often).
Les Rosenblatt in an Executive member of the Australian Jewish Democratic Society.
Galus Australis welcomes submissions from any attendees who would like to put forward an alternative perspective on the event discussed in this article.