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SBS knew Israel drama would offend Jews,

SBS screened the controversial drama The Promise in the knowledge it would offend the Jewish community, Liberal senators have claimed.

The Executive Council of Australian Jewry denounced the British program, set in the final days of the British mandate in Palestine ahead of the founding of Israel, as anti-Semitic when it screened late last year, saying it breached SBS racism guidelines.

The program provoked a furore when it aired in Britain earlier in the year.

Under questioning from Victorian Liberal senator Helen Kroger in estimates, SBS managing director Michael Edeid said the broadcaster entered into a pre-sale deal with the producers of The Promise knowing the subject matter would be controversial.

He said when SBS received a series of complaints about the program, an internal probe was launched to determine whether it would be aired. The review board, which included Mr Edeid, decided to go ahead. "SBS appears to have put a business decision ahead of independent assessments, which determined that it was offensive to the Jewish community," Senator Kroger said.
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"Equally concerning was Mr Edeid's assertion that, with hindsight, he would make the same decision to put the program to air."

An SBS spokesman said Mr Edeid had emphasised the program was a drama and a work of fiction. "SBS did review the program carefully before it went to air and determined that, despite the potential for controversy, it was of sufficient quality and interest to warrant being broadcast," he said.

"SBS accepts that it will, from time to time, broadcast programs that offend some individuals or groups."

The spokesman said that following representations from members of the Jewish community after the first episode, SBS broadcast a message before the three subsequent episodes to emphasise to viewers that the program was fictional, rather than a documentary or factual account of historical events.

He told The Australian the broadcaster had received several complaints alleging that the program breached its codes of practice. "These were reviewed in accordance with SBS's normal procedures and it was determined that no breach had occurred."

He added that complainants dissatisfied with the SBS response were free to refer the matter to the broadcasting watchdog, the Australian Communications and Media Authority, but SBS was unaware of any doing so to date.

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