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January 15, 2010

C-SPAN Responds! Well, Not Exactly


C-SPAN Executives Susan Swain and Brian Lamb

As Jeffrey Goldberg has discovered, communicating with C-SPAN executives about their network having become a platform for anti-Semites to spew hatred isn't easy. Unlike virtually every other media outlet, C-SPAN refuses to return phone calls, letters and emails from dissatisfied viewers. This is the case even though C-SPAN considers itself a public service, devoted to promoting a smooth-functioning and interactive democracy.

Goldberg has persisted, though, and on January 14 reported he'd elicited a written statement from Terry Murphy, the network's VP for Programming, who wrote:

The call-in program has been a fixture of the C-SPAN networks for nearly all of our three decades. Our mission statement commits us to providing the audience with "direct access" to our guests on an "open basis". The live, town-hall format of the program can occasionally give rise to distasteful statements by callers making it to air, and the January 4 call is an example. We air approximately 400 calls per week and this kind of language is not typical of the vast majority. Program hosts, whose role is to facilitate the dialogue between callers and guests, are certainly permitted to step in when a caller makes ad hominem attacks or uses obscenity or obviously racist language. Given that this involves quick judgment during a live television production, it's an imperfect process that didn't work as well as it should have that day.

First, the "live, town-hall format" does not "occasionally give rise to distasteful statements" but often -- sometimes many times a week, even multiple times in a single segment -- gives rise to raw, unadulterated, anti-Jewish ravings. The outpouring of bigoted attacks on Jews by callers to the network should long ago have caused CEO's Brian Lamb and Susan Swain, as well as other senior executives, to take action.

Indeed, if program hosts are "certainly permitted to step in" when callers make bigoted statements, why don't they? What are they waiting for? Do they think the crude, conspiracy-mongering callers who blame all the world's ills on Israel and its supporters have a valid point?

Do members of the C-SPAN Board of Directors condone this?

And if not, what are they waiting for?

Posted by AL at January 15, 2010 06:19 PM


FYI: Channel 4 finally replied to me about "Inside Britain's Israel Lobby":

Thank you for your email regarding DISPATCHES: Inside Britain's Israel

Apologies that it has taken a while to answer.

We are sorry to hear your concerns regarding the programme.

We would advise that negative comments in regards to the programme were the
subject of a blog, recently featured on our website. This involved our
Viewers Editor, Paula Carter speaking to Kevin Sutcliffe, Channel 4?s deputy
head of news and current affairs and the person responsible for the
Dispatches strand. The body of that blog has been included below and should
hopefully go some way in explaining the purpose of the programme and
addressing viewer concerns.

?After taking a brief moment to appreciate the fact that over 400 people had
contacted the channel with positive comments about the programme ? not to
mention some similarly appreciative reactions from commentators and
colleagues in the media industry ? I discussed with Kevin some of the less
positive things that viewers had to say about the programme.

Kevin?s view was that this story was exactly right for Dispatches ?
important, sensitive (both politically and internationally), demanding,
robust and thorough journalism. While he acknowledged viewers? comments
about the ?courage? needed to tell this sort of story, he said that
Dispatches often took this in its stride, in his words: ?After facing court
proceedings as a reaction to Undercover Mosque, anything else seems easy in
comparison!? Kevin pointed out that Dispatches is no stranger to defending
its programmes in the face of strong and prolonged legal challenges ?
challenges that are not necessarily visible to the viewing public as they
are so rarely successful.

Inside Britain?s Israel Lobby had its genesis in the Disasters and
Emergencies Committee story that broke in January this year when the BBC
decided not to transmit an appeal for victims of the conflict in Gaza. One
of the criticisms levelled at the recent Dispatches programme was that
pictures of the conflict and suffering in Gaza were somehow gratuitous and
had no place in a story that was focussing on lobbying. Kevin told me that
these images were an essential part of the programme since the use of such
shots was at the heart of what lobby organisations were trying to control
and he was confident that they had been used judiciously.

He did not agree with the criticism that Peter Oborne was an inappropriate
choice of presenter ? he said that Peter is a political columnist well known
for his fair-mindedness who has had direct exposure to lobby groups on both
sides of the Middle Eastern conflict and further, has exposed lobby groups
in the past.

Kevin was particularly pleased to hear of the positive comments sent by
viewers identifying themselves as Jewish ? he hoped the programme would
contribute to an open and democratic debate that could include all shades of
view on Israel.?

Please be assured, however, that your complaint has been logged and noted
for the information of those responsible for our programming.

Thank you again for taking the time to contact us. We appreciate all
feedback from our viewers; complimentary or otherwise.

Rachel Salinger
Channel 4 Viewer Enquiries

Posted by: Steven at January 15, 2010 05:01 PM

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