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Attempts at Censorship will Prove Counterproductive

January 17, 2012 – 7:58 pm78 Comments

The late Andrés Escobar, reacting after his sadly infamous own goal in 1994

By Anthony Frosh

In attempting to ban DVD sales of The Promise, a polemical mini-series recently screened on SBS, the Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ) have done a proverbial Andrés Escobar.

Attempts, or even perceived attempts, at censorship only ever result in cultivating more interest in the object of the censorship. If you want to get your high school students to read their physics textbooks, you can’t do much better than banning them.

I only saw the first episode of the series. As a piece of drama, I found it too unsophisticated to keep my interest. One of the first things I noticed, besides the lame acting and dialogue, was that Israeli youths were driving far more expensive cars than those driven by even some of their most spoilt Toorak or Vaucluse contemporaries, a sure sign that the film makers had little interest in being true-to-life. Perhaps they were trying to perpetuate a stereotype (that has nothing to with Israel) about Jews that one might sometimes encounter in Western universities concerning Jewish kids being rich and spoilt.

The first episode, although lacking in accuracy and realism, seemed more balanced than I had expected. Later, I heard that the hostile portrayal of Jews, Zionism, and Israel, really takes off as the series progresses. When I heard this, I wondered whether this was an example of the hostile media phenomenon, whereby emotionally invested parties perceive relatively neutral or balanced media content as strongly hostile to their own side.

However, if this were merely a case of the hostile media phenomenon, then the scientific literature predicts that Palestinian advocates would have also had similar reactions; that is, they would have perceived the series as being highly hostile to their side. A little bit of research reveals this is not the case. Australians For Palestine (which would be more accurately named Australians against Israel) called for supportive submissions to SBS and the relevant politicians within the communications portfolio concerning the series. I also witnessed a number of anti-Semites on Facebook championing the series.

All this leads me to believe that ECAJ is accurate in its perception of the series as anti-Semitic. As for their comparisons to Nazi propaganda, well I have not seen the series other than the first episode, but I think everyone should be extra-cautious when it comes to Nazi comparisons, as these risk trivialising the horrors that Nazis represented.

None of this changes the fact that censorship is not only wrong in principle, but is highly counterproductive. ECAJ’s efforts will sadly see a lame piece of propaganda disguised as art get far more attention than it deserves. It will also result in the Australian Jewish community once again being labelled as advocates of censorship and media control.

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