ABC Television will “consider” broadcasting a Middle East pro-peace documentary it had previously refused to show after pressure from the film’s distribution company.
An initial offer to broadcast the independent film Hope in a Slingshot was retracted by the ABC earlier this year due to “impartiality” concerns, but Crikey can reveal that ABC management will now reconsider its decision.
Hope in a Slingshot is the work of Australian/Maltese documentary filmmaker Inka Stafrace and portrays her experiences in the contested West Bank region of the Middle East. While the film is critical of Israel’s occupation of Palestine, it was partially funded by Jewish and Palestinian communities within Australia and is focussed on attaining a peaceful resolution to conflict in the area.
A press release from the film’s distribution company, Ronin Films, expressed disappointment at the retraction of the ABC’s offer, saying that a worthwhile debate was being halted: “The ABC’s policy of maintaining ‘balance’ on ‘contentious’ issues runs the risk of halting dialogue and censoring innovative points of view.”
In a letter to Ronin Films, the ABC’s director of television Kim Dalton explained the film would not be shown due to its opinionated content:
“…the ABC has taken the view that the documentary Hope in a Slingshot is an opinion — or point of view — program about the ongoing conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.”
Clause 6.1 of the ABC’s editorial policies states “opinion content” is permitted for broadcast based on the understanding that “such content can add to public understanding and debate on issues”. A spokesperson for Dalton told Crikey that while opinion content is permitted for broadcast the film was not shown due to concerns about “impartiality”.
“Given the documentary reports on the issue from a particular perspective ABC TV is required to demonstrate impartiality,” the ABC says.
Clause 6.6.3 of the editorial policies would require the ABC to provide “content of a similar type and weight and in an appropriate time-slot” in order to balance the views expressed in Hope in a Slingshot. The ABC told Crikey it can’t find content “which would put an alternative view and therefore we would be unable to meet the impartiality requirement”.
The decision not to broadcast the film has attracted the ire of the Friends of the ABC group. Victorian campaign manager Glenys Stradijot told Crikey the ABC had gone too far.
“If the ABC’s editorial policies that deal with bias and balance are now so restrictive that ABC audiences could be prevented from understanding the lives of a large group of people, then the ABC will fail in its responsibilities to inform and educate,” she said.
The extent to which the ABC tried to find an alternative view program is not clear, but in a March 26 email to the ABC’s head of programming, Marena Manzoufas, Hope in a Slingshot’s creator Inka Stafrace offered one possible option:
“It seems the onus is on me and my distributors to offer you these alternative POV films. I began my search yesterday and found The Case for Israel.”
The ABC never responded to the suggestion, maintaining its decision not to broadcast the film. After Crikey sent Stafrace’s original email to the ABC, asking why it had not been considered, a spokesperson said the decision not to broadcast the film would be revisited.
“We will be happy to have (Ronin Films) suggest a program that balances out the views expressed in Hope in a Slingshot, for ABC TV to consider,” a spokesperson said.
Ronin Films managing director Dr Andrew Pike welcomed the news: “I’m happy to hear they will look into it.”