Something is Rotten in the Lion’s Den
By Malki Rose
For almost a year now, rumours, speculation and all sorts of colourful claims have been made by individuals claiming to represent the true intentions and processes being undertaken by Lion FM.
Lion, although generating bits of pleasing content, is struggling to roar as it should be.
Lion FM, incorporated as Melbourne Jewish Radio (MJR), has been a revolving door of disgruntled volunteers and dedicated contributors. With bright-eyes and full of hope, they approach the den with eager enthusiasm to contribute to a great community initiative. But to the dismay of hundreds, they are met not with the roar of a Lion of strength, the symbol of Jewish pride, but rather they are frightened away by the stampede of an insidious and despotic executive board, followed by a cowardly cabal of yes-men. Many an eager cub has left, disillusioned and despondent.
The initiative, spearheaded by a group of well-meaning individuals almost two years ago, was intended to be a beacon of community growth and unity. While some persisted with this intention, others simply found it to be an opportunity to propagate their own agenda, forgetting why MJR had been established in the first place.
The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) grants permanent community licenses to stations that can demonstrate that they reflect and represent the needs of the community for which the license is granted. In this case the license was granted as ‘Religious – Jewish’. Some have sought to creatively interpret this for their own purposes as “a radio station for religious Jews”.
However, all but one of the individuals who established the station were NOT religious. Additionally, the type of community the station will serve does not speak to the level of orthodoxy, or purport to define the individual political leanings or religious sub-groups within that community. The ACMA guidelines give an example of a “Religious – Buddhist” license which would “ideally welcome involvement in the station by people with an interest in Buddhism, not just adherents of Buddhism”. In other words, the net is widely cast when it comes to defining the group to which the license applies, so long as those claiming an interest have some sort of connection.
In any event, on several occasions, members of the board of Lion FM have sidelined many an Orthodox and non-Orthodox individual, of both right and left wing political persuasions. So the point is moot.
Late last year, following a concerted effort to work with the disjointed board, the former President, Mr Michael Lipschutz, walked out of Lion FM after it became apparent that his efforts were not welcomed by the remaining members and no co-operation or compromise was possible.
In the aftermath of Lipschutz’s departure, the now fractured executive handpicked a new President, Mr John Kraus, whom they expected would lead MJR to a brighter and more financially viable future.
In the following months, Mr Kraus made several concerted efforts to first and foremost rectify and recommend new directions. He proposed some positive steps that the board could take to improve the functionality, governance and image of the station.
Legal experts involved in assessing the structure of MJR and its constitution have noted that governance is the primary issue of urgent concern. At best, it is reckoned that the association is run with its constitution in indefinite suspension or, more realistically, in defiance of its own constitution. Furthermore, there have been numerous allegations of egregious breaches to Corporations law, tax law, and the Broadcasting Services Act. But a recalcitrant executive has displayed a total unwillingness to admit fault or need to change.
In recent months, much hard work has been done by the station manager, Mr Yossi Ashkenazi, to increase marketing, build better facilities and invite several individuals to produce and host programs. But because of intrinsic structural failures, some have waited months to for their shows to be put to air; others have aired immediately and some have yet to be aired, with no indication of when they will be aired, if at all.
In June, MJR’s temporary license will be up for review, and a permanent license for a community radio station will only be granted by ACMA if the station has demonstrated that it can be run in accordance with its guidelines, and serves the community group for which the license was granted. The dual requirements of community representation and active encouragement of all members of the community to be involved are clearly set out in Part 5 of Schedule 2 of the Broadcasting Services Act.
Approximately two weeks ago, ignoring the insistence of MJR’s executive, Mr Kraus took the constructive move of attending a meeting with leaders and members of the Jewish community who have been involved in ongoing efforts with Lion. An optimistic Kraus asserted that it was his most earnest intention to listen to the concerns and perspectives of those in attendance in the hope that he might be able to take these concerns back to the executive and effect some positive change for the benefit of the station and the community.
At the meeting, both SZC President, Sam Tatarka, and JCCV President, John Searle, reflected on the urgency and gravity of the situation, and said that it would be prudent for the recalcitrant members of the executive to initiate immediate changes to avoid having the radio license revoked, as this would be a most unfortunate and disappointing travesty, not only for those who have worked hard to invest in and develop the station, but for the entire Australian Jewish community.
Mr Searle hoped that the executive would be amenable to this advice and that changes could take place with expediency, so that the station could finally begin to flourish. Mr Searle also remarked that if MJR failed to act, then the tragic loss of the license would rest solely on the shoulders of the executive.
Days later, both John Searle and Sam Tatarka, met with the entire executive of Lion FM at the invitation of John Kraus. The purpose of this meeting was to make recommendations to the executive to immediately correct all underlying governance issues, including establishing a structure for community membership, so that fair and proper elections can take place in accordance with the MJR constitution, ACMA guidelines, and relevant legislation.
Unfortunately, the tape that was supposed to be recording minutes of the meeting, as arranged by Lion FM vice president Mr Menachem Khoen, inexplicably failed.
Menachem Kohen, who has provided significant finance for the station, has thus far reasserted his intention to hold firmly onto his floundering reign of the station. He has also voiced a general unwillingness to co-operate with anyone outside of his handpicked executive.
It is understood that the board of Lion FM have claimed that they intend to take legal action against the president that they selected, Mr Kraus, as ‘payback’ for attending the mediation.
No formal structure of community involvement or membership has ever existed in Lion FM, although there have been several failed or misleading attempts to establish a resemblance of such a structure.
But even in the event that a membership structure were to be established, all members would be subject to approval by the executive, and to whatever measures of assessment they choose to employ. Under its current leadership, it seems impossible for governance or a membership structure to be balanced or reflective of the Jewish community.
Contrary to the requirements of the Broadcasting Services Act, the executive have reiterated many times that they are simply not interested in pluralism or representing multiple views.
And if a membership structure were to be established and individuals ‘signed-up’ for membership of Lion FM, what kind of station would this afford them?
At best, it would afford them the unfortunate privilege of becoming members of a station with at least $40,000 in debt, a series of general tax and GST related implications, incurred from failures to undertake transactions between individual board members and the company transparently and at arm’s length, and a host of other technical and ongoing legal concerns, until such time as Lion inevitably drowns.
The executive appear to be demonstrating a total disregard for law, an unwillingness to comply with ACMA guidelines or enter into peaceful dialogue or mediation, and a refusal to rectify faulty and non-existent structures.
It will be a travesty if so much talent, hard work, dedication, and finance all comes to an end, as will be the case in June unless there is significant change. For Lion, there seems no way forward. Two presidents have tried their darndest and sadly diplomacy has failed. The toxicity within appears insurmountable.
Thus far it seems that Lion FM is an opportunity for Jewish unity that some would prefer to see wasted rather than remedied. Soon, the Lion shall roar no longer.
For a previous article on Lion FM, click here.