Jews float plan for their own TV channel

Leading Jewish broadcasters back idea which could even include a soap opera
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The Independent Online
REMEMBER Rebbe, the Rapping Rabbi, whose stand-up act used to make sporadic appearances on our television screens? Don't worry if you missed him. He could soon have his very own show.

Britain's Jews are being urged to seize the unique opportunity presented by the digital revolution to create their own television channel.

The call came yesterday from the Institute for Jewish Policy Research (JPR), a leading international think-tank, and is being backed by prominent Jews who hold some of the most powerful posts in British broadcasting, including David Elstein, chief executive of Channel 5, Michael Green, chairman of Carlton Communications and Sir Jeremy Isaacs, founding chief executive of Channel 4.

His successor Michael Grade was also Jewish. Indeed, until he quit television last year, all of Britain's five terrestrial channels had Jews in prominent positions.

Sir Jeremy said: "There is the potential here for something really exciting and meaningful which reflects the diversity of Jewish lives, experiences and history, and combines modest new programmes, live broadcasts and anthologises the programming commissioned on Jewish themes over the last several decades."

Launching the think-tank's report Jewish Television: Prospects and Possibilities, its author Professor Roger Silverstone, professor of media studies at Sussex University, argued that a Jewish television channel could "reflect, express and enhance Jewish culture as an active and creative force within British society.

"It is high time that Jews participated in electronic media space to recover their heritage, to redefine their identity and their social and cultural contribution, and to make their presence felt in the wider public sphere."

Professor Silverstone, acknowledged that there was a risk of creating an "electronic ghetto" though such a narrow casting initiative. But he envisaged that the proposed channel would avoid this danger by appealing from day one to non-Jews. With Britain's Jewish population numbering around 300,000, the network would need to have wider appeal to be commercially viable. A working party will be set up to consider what would constitute kosher television.

"I personally would love to see a soap opera which worked within the stereotypes of Jews but didn't exploit them," Professor Silverstone enthused, adding: "There would doubtless also be lots of talk shows. Jews love to talk and talk is cheap TV." He admitted that Jewish radio wasn't flourishing in Britain and that, even with rich benefactors, a Jewish television channel would probably struggle to get established. But he believes the idea is worth exploring.

The JPR's ideas have been discussed at two policy seminars chaired by Michael Green and attended by a range of television and other media professionals, who believe that changes in media technology provide an opportunity to use television as a catalyst for reinvigorating contemporary Jewish culture.

Britain is set to become the first country in the world with national digital television, available on cable, satellite and terrestrial platforms, so many ethnic groups are seriously looking at how they could launch their own channel.

Ireland's national broadcaster RTE has joined with a leading American cable network to launch Tara Television in the UK, but it has been struggling to negotiate cable carriage.

Paul Maverick, who played the aforementioned Rapping Rabbi, was not available for comment. He's obviously not waiting for a Jewish television channel to change his fortunes. He was in Los Angeles yesterday hustling for commissions for his independent company, Shyster Productions.