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Stop moaning and start celebrating the media

The freedom of the press is an important principle, and one that we need to remember when we feel that it has become an extension of the battleground, writes Charlotte Henry

    I think it would be fair to say that the Jewish community endures something of a fraught relationship with large parts of the media.

    Our running it as part of a vast global conspiracy, has not, it seems, helped prevent the media repeatedly frustrating and offending a large number of us.

    Whether it is some of the reporting on Israel during times of conflict or the pictures and language that outlets use to represent us, many feel that outside of papers like the JC we do not get a fair hearing.

    It is all too easy to react angrily and demand “something must be done” which, in the case of the media, means regulations that inevitably limit its freedom.

    Such feelings may have dampened slightly over the last three years, following the way that journalists have worked to expose the antisemitism infecting the Labour Party. However, I would hazard a guess that this is only temporary. Normal service will, no doubt, be resumed at some point in the not too distant future.

    I cannot pretend that sometimes the criticisms aimed at the media by our community are not valid.

    Just last weekend, the Associated Press initially headlined a report on the horror in Pittsburgh: “An open door and a massacre”. It implied that Jews having the temerity to pray behind an unlocked door was the reason they were killed by a heavily armed fascist.

    The blame being put on those who were slaughtered is enough to make even the most mild-mannered scream and head for the AP’s complaints procedure.

    But the next time you feel the urge to demand “something must be done” with the media, take a pause. Not only is it not here to do our PR (or that of any other community), a free press shares many of the values that we as Jews hold dear.

    The sanctity of the truth sits at the heart of much Jewish learning and finding the truth is what reporters do everyday, often shining a light where powerful people do not want it.

    Think too of the many causes that newspapers have championed over the years — everything from demanding that the murderers of Stephen Lawrence be brought to justice here in the UK to exposing those who abused their positions over in Hollywood.

    Such endeavours are perfectly aligned with the Jewish pursuit of justice.

    Furthermore, we constantly see the media asking difficult questions and exploring challenging subjects. Look, for instance, at how columnists try to unravel the day’s most complex topics. This practice of wrestling with and questioning major issues is again a core Jewish value.

    Look closer still and you can see other things close to Jewish hearts portrayed in the media.

    Strong pro-Israel voices are featured in a range of print publications and Israel advocates are regularly given the opportunity to air their views by major broadcast outlets.

    In the last 12 months, large parts of the media have helped commemorate the centenary of the Balfour declaration and the 70th anniversary of Israel’s independence, while Holocaust Memorial Day is always given prominent and thoughtful coverage.

    Jewish religious leaders regularly appear on relevant broadcasts like Thought for the Day too.

    Ultimately, it is the media that is on the frontline in the fight against fake news, and given all the conspiracy theories about us, we Jews know how much the truth matters.

    Indeed, in this current post-truth age, an age in which facts seems to hold less and less significance for an ever increasing number of people, we need good journalism to defend the truth more than ever.

    Quite simply, the type of society that has a free press is more often than not the type of society that allows us to live openly and comfortably as Jews and the type of society that reflects key Jewish values. It is no coincidence that the next target of those who attacked the Charlie Hebdo magazine in France in January 2015 was the Jewish community.

    A free press is a crucial pillar of a free society. We must not take this for granted and allow the media to simply be declared as the enemy, either of us or others.

    You need only look at recent brutal murder of Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul, or the bomb sent to CNN, to see what occurs when that happens.

    In these troubling times for our community, not to mention the world at large, the media is an important voice fighting back against those who would do us harm.