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Media Paradox

I didn’t want to write this post. 

Midway through last week Jewgle Perth received a comment about an alleged “scandal” at Carmel School.  We were challenged that if we considered ourselves to be a credible source of media about events in the Jewish community of Perth, we were obliged to report this information.  If we didn’t we would be “hypocritical”, focussing on all the convenient stories and ignoring the ugly ones that are not to our liking.

Yes, we are a media source.  But we are a blog and a facility for communal commentary.  We are under no obligations, political allegiences, commercial pressures, or ethical restrictions.  However we do wish to be responsible bloggers.  We are also Jews that are obligated to Torah law, which includes lashan hara, and restrictions on mallicious gossip and hearsay.  So we decided not to “blow” the story, and  emulate those journalists who go for sensational headlines every time we stumble across unsubstantiated allegations.

The news that we received is now out in the public domain.  Here is a link to the story in the Australian Jewish News. 

There are two issues I’d like to put forward regarding this.  The first is the issue of when the media need to fill their role as an informant, as opposed to the media damaging the harmony of a community by delivering controvery, disturbing news, or hearsay.  A child sex offence story is great newspaper fodder for the trash journalists of today, but should we hold the Jewish media to a higher standard, or should we simply accept that this is to be expected.  In other words, is the role of the Jewish media no different to the general media – to sell newspapers and return a profit? (which is acheived by stirring up emotions and attracting attention towards matters of interest).  

So what happened with this story?  There are three approaches:  The Jewgle one, which was to not place the matter in the public domain out of sensitivity for those involved, and a consciousness of the Jewish laws of speech and slander.  The AJN one, which was to publish those aspects of the story that are known to the public.  Or the Maccabean approach. 

The Macc contained an editorial comment that said “An awful stiuation has rocked Carmel School.  Without knowing any of the background and having no knowledge of the circumstances, one can only say that the people involved made bad decisions, which ultimately led to the most tragic of consequences”.  That’s it!  There is no story or further detail.  In other words, the Maccabean alludes to the matter, and assumes that its readers know through the grapevine what is happening.  On the one hand, I respect the Maccabean for not providing specific and somewhat lewd information about the incident.  On the other hand, I wonder if a ‘baiting’ of the issue at editorial level will do more harm than good, and leave many readers who are unaware of the situation speculating about the matter?  That then leads to an even bigger game of communal chinese whispers.  In some ways, it may have been better for the Maccabean to say all, or nothing.  However that is a very difficult editorial call to make, and I can well understand and appreciate that the paper felt obliged to say something, yet also had the courtesy to avoid mudracking the matter at a time when people are both in shock and are greiving.   On this score, the Maccabean has distinguished itself above the AJN.

The second issue that should be considered for comment is the impact that this matter has on the school and its management.  The school is clearly in a no-win situation, damned if they do come out and inform their clientele of the situation, and damned if they don’t.  The school issued a statement to parents last week that was very clear in demonstrating that action was immediately taken once the issue was drawn to their attention.  Efforts were also undertaken to ensure that no students of the school were potential victims of an alleged pedophile.  That has to be accepted at face value.  Let’s not lose sight of the fact that the school is not responsible for this, and that it is common to any employer that runs a recruitment process that sometimes people with psychological problems or deviant tendencies do not have their shortcomings detected through that process.  The school, faced with the worst of scenarios, has provided a most responsible and diligent reaction to date.  It is now important that if any further information emerges that it is also made available, and that the most important focus (which is the support provided to counsel teenagers who have had to deal with the bereavement of a teacher) is retained.

We live in a complex world with real problems.  We can learn from this that some matters should not be swept under the carpet.  Like the Jewish community of Melbourne who have had child abuse issues to contend with within their Jewish school network, pretending these problems don’t exist, or ignoring their severity is no solution and a poor form of response.  On the other hand, delivering due sensitivity to those who are at the heart of an alleged criminal situation is critical, and there are times and places where this needs to occur outside the media spotlight.  A trial by media will acheive nothing but speculation and sensationalism.

I didn’t want to write this post.  I didn’t want to draw attention to an issue that is not pleasant, and where perhaps not all the information that is relevant to the story is at hand.  I am still not sure whether this is one of those cases where it is best not to know, or whether the harsh reality is better managed as a matter of public interest. 

Please draw your own conclusions and feel free to share them here.   

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