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Just don't mention the J word

by: Leslie Bunder - Last updated: 2003-09-05

When it comes to urban myths and stereotypes, the one which many Jews find to be most laughable is that they control the media. Indeed, if we actually controlled the media, then why are we doing such a poor job at getting Jewish views and programming on TV, radio and print both in the mainstream and what little media we actually have for ourselves.

When it comes to radio, we don't have any national stations, let alone local stations other than a 30 minute show once a week produced by the BBC in Manchester. In print, we have one national newspaper, the Jewish Chronicle and a couple of regional papers in London and Manchester.

Not exactly the foundations of a bunch of people trying to control UK society after a good 100 years of so of being firmly rooted on this island.

On TV the situation is even worse. Media executives like to feature us in two situations. Either as victims of the Holocaust or when it comes to Israel, as persecutors.

We don't seem to have ever been featured in modern positive portrayals despite the vast amount of good work everyday Jewish people do in British society.

We don't seem ever to have an opportunity to show British Jewish culture in the same way that other ethnic groups have with their culture.

OK, there may certainly be a number of Jews in top positions in television, but that is a million miles away from actually seeing material being broadcast. And while it is encouraging to see many of these people struggle through hard times to reach the giddy heights of their careers, never let it be said this is a substitute for letting other Jews be able to make TV and have it broadcast.

When was the last time you saw a Jewish character on TV? When was the last time you saw a Jewish comedy show?

For most this is never. Jewish characters on TV have been full of stereotypical innuendo. Witness, the character of Dorian from Birds of a Feather with her minx-like persona hinting at a Jewish background but never delving into it.

Or, in the early 90s, we had a Jewish ghost grandmother in So Haunt Me which really put the cause of Jewish comedy back by decades.

While other ethnic groups have quite rightly had showcasing comedy shows, British Jewish comics have never had this opportunity and have had to struggle bravely on the ghetto-like Jewish comedy scene playing to handfuls.

In some circles the mere mention of the J word is enough to kill your career. If it wasn't then we would surely have had a thriving Jewish entertainment scene similar to how other communities have theirs.

So why the lack of J entertainment. Maybe the mere mention of Jewish makes people feel uncomfortable and throws up images that once you start with something small, like a 30 minute show at 1.30am in the morning, next you'll see these Jews wanting to have a BBC Jew channel. Of course, it is really not like that, but what other reasons can there be for a lack of vision in allowing Jewish programming.

It is not about demanding this from TV companies, it is more about them understanding that Jewish people and indeed non-Jews are really tired of the way in which they get represented on television.

If as much thought went into the mission statements that companies have in terms of promising to deliver diverse programming, as actually went into the execution of fulfilling this promise, we could see some results.

Until then, Jewish programming will consist of programmes about the holocaust, Israel, Moses, Abraham and the Chief Rabbi's New Year message going out at midnight.  And you wonder why Jews are fed up with the way they are featured?