A Middle East film that should be screened on the ABC

Is this a case of preemptive buckle on the part of the ABC or something else entirely? You decide:

The distributor of an Australian documentary sympathetic to the Palestinian cause was told it would not screen on the ABC until a program taking an opposing position was available for broadcast.

The ruling has outraged the film’s distributors and the Friends of the ABC, which has accused the broadcaster of a distorted interpretation of its commitment to impartiality.

The ABC wrote to Ronin Films, the distributor of Hope in a Slingshot, to inform them of the ABC’s concern over screening the documentary, which tells the story of Palestinians living under what it terms ”military occupation” by Israel.

”The documentary clearly meets the requirement of having a particular point of view, and relating to a matter of contention and public debate,” the ABC’s director of television, Kim Dalton, wrote to the managing director of Ronin Films, Andrew Pike, in a letter seen by the Herald. ”However under the editorial policies ABC TV is also required to meet an impartiality requirement.”

He cited the ABC’s editorial policy that required it to demonstrate impartiality in coverage by ”providing content of a similar type and weight and in an appropriate timeframe”.

”The ABC has not been able to access content which would put an alternative view and therefore we would be unable to meet the impartiality requirement.”

Dr Pike says the film makes a strong pro-peace statement on the Middle East conflict by interviewing human rights activists, both Israeli and Palestinian. The documentary is narrated by the filmmaker, Australian Inka Stafrace, who talks about her experience in the conflict zone.

”The call for balance defies logic and contradicts the ABC’s own routine programming decisions,” Dr Pike said.

A Friends of the ABC spokeswoman, Glenys Stradijot, said the decision took the commitment to bias avoidance to an absurd extreme.

She said it was important for the ABC to stand up to the pressure on contentious issues such as the Middle East. ”If the ABC’s bowing to that sort of pressure that’s not a good thing for an independent broadcaster.”

The executive director of the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council, Colin Rubenstein, said he was unaware of the film.