by: Rabbi Jeremy Rosen - Last updated: 2006-06-16
Rabbi Jeremy Rosen
Last week, Rabbi Jeremy Rosen expresses his views on the standards of the Jewish Chronicle and then finds himself banned from writing for the publication. "It strikes me as very sad when a journal cannot take criticism or reacts to it like a spoilt child," he says.
You remember last week I criticised the Jewish Chronicle (together with Anglo-Jewry, in general) for making an unnecessarily lurid item out of the Richard Desmond case? Well, they didnt like it. Not one bit. So much so that I have been informed by email that I have been banned, excluded and blackballed from writing occasional pieces for them!
Well, if that isnt a typical Anglo-Jewish response. Tow the party line or else. No criticism. And then comes the usual, Dont we have enough enemies outside without being attacked from within? Most of my life it has been the Orthodox world that has been seen to be clamping down on dissent. Not any more! Oh, how the mighty have fallen. What kind of journal cannot take criticism? In all fairness, it must also be said that having the guts to come out so brazenly is a new departure, because traditionally the JC has tended to play too safe. Perhaps new editors are Jekylls and Hydes.
Freedom of the press? I hear you say. The truth is there never has been complete and absolute freedom. But I guess its relative. We get more information in the West, even if much of it is both wrong and biased, than they would in Saudi Arabia, for example. Why even the iconic internet company, Google, caved in to Chinese pressure and allows censorship. Even the most unbiased editor makes decisions. And thats only fair. I wouldnt quibble with that because thats his job.
As students we used to argue that in Russia it required a committee of Communist Party hacks to approve anything printed in Pravda. Then we realized that in the West a wealthy power broker could control the free press through his money and decide what would go in or what would not. Most often the bottom business line decides what news is fit to print. The saving grace of a free society is that you at least have the chance of hearing different points of view, and indeed we know jolly well what sort of angle on the news youll get from the Guardian or the Telegraph, and what sort of illustrations youll get in the Sun or Sporting Life!
But the Jewish Chronicle doesnt need money, not really. It is now an independent trust set up by the Kessler family and does very well indeed. It charges exorbitantly for adverts, even from Jewish educational institutions, and makes a small fortune because it is a sort of monopoly, in that it reaches more Anglo-Jews than any other journal and is still regarded by a lot of people as the best the Jewish community has to offer. So this offence that I gave cannot be because they think theyll lose money. No. It is either a new editor under pressure trying to flex his muscles, or a particular kind of mindset that wants to punish any disagreement, which is really most inappropriate to journalism.
My late father used to make disparaging remarks all the time about the Jewish Chronic, as he used to call it--usually when thered be some reference to the Jewish identity of the person who danced with the person who danced with the Duke of Edinburgh. One Shabbat he asked me if Id read that weeks edition. I said I hadnt. He flew into a fury. How can you know whats going on in the Jewish world if you dont read the JC? he said.
My father was a friend of then-editor William Frankel, who I respected as a wise, generous and good-hearted man, though I think his campaign to establish the Conservative Jewish movement in Britain backfired (in particular on Rabbi Louis Jacobs), even if his critique of the Orthodox establishment was spot on. At one stage I actually used to fill in for Chaim Bermant when he was away. The JC published poems and cartoons of mine as well as articles. Then there was Geoffrey Paul, whom I have always admired very much as an editor and as a man of substance in the community. Ive been friendly with important members of the team, from Meir Persoff to Bill Wilson to Melvyn Weinberg to Simon Rocker. But then I started to spend more time away from Britain and never had a lot to do with Ned Temko, so I guess, gradually I have diminished my credit line. But it strikes me as very sad when a journal cannot take criticism or reacts to it like a spoilt child. It cant be in anyones best interest.
I write a weekly column for the Manchester-based Jewish Telegraph. The editor there has been pretty peeved by one or two things I have written over the years. But maybe its his experience that has lead him to realize that indulging favoured children can sometimes produces dividends!
The JC still is the widest read paper in Anglo Jewry buts its reader base is shrinking. Overall Anglo Jewry is shrinking, through assimilation and emigration. As the community polarises, fewer Jews on the left are reading the JC and many Orthodox Jews are reading papers that more closely reflect their values, often from Israel. Internet access now means we can know whats going on in the Jewish world without the JC. Many of my friends prefer reading the English versions of Haaretz and the Jerusalem Post. This way they are closer to millions of Jews rather than thousands. It should make sense to include rather exclude.
For me, it matters little. But for Anglo-Jewry I think its a sad state of affairs.
Visit Jeremy Rosen on the web: www.JeremyRosen.com