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    Cash for comment – Ask the Rabbi

    Q. Is there a Jewish response to the allegations* that certain Australian radio hosts have been taking “cash for comment” from banks?

    radio microphoneA. In Jewish ethics certain things are not and cannot be kosher. They include untruths, injustice, irresponsibility and inhumanity. High on the list is the giving and taking of bribes.

    The Torah says, “A bribe blinds the eyes of the intelligent and perverts the words of the righteous” (Deut. 16:19). This applies especially to bribes intended to persuade a person to say what you want to hear. A Biblical example is the prophets described in the Books of Kings as Och’lei Shulchan Izevel – they who “ate at the table of Jezebel” (I Kings 18:19). Prophets who can be bought are no prophets.

    In today’s world there are occasionally politicians and public servants who allow themselves to be bought. One hopes that judges are never tempted. But the John Laws case suggests that media personalities are not free from temptation and some are prepared to succumb and to say what suits their patrons.

    True, there have been comments in recent days that the public is not fooled and that people are cynical enough to ensure that they never take media journalists seriously. I am not so certain, and in any case the media and its people should have enough of an ethical conscience to exert themselves to stay clean irrespective of any possible public cynicism.

    A journalist probably cannot entirely avoid having personal prejudices but once their prejudices become preposterous there have to be controls. Those controls need to be formulated jointly by the media, the government and the people. They need to govern, among other things, the borderline between legitimate public interest and mere sensationalism and scandal-mongering.

    They need to consider how far if at all it is acceptable to exaggerate a fact or a story, to indulge in selective presentation and deny one side or other an adequate hearing, and to word headlines to give an impression that is not borne out by the story.

    The wise King Solomon said, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Prov. 18:21). People involved in professions that shape society should never forget how much harm they can do if they are irresponsible with words, emphases and nuances.

    * This article first appeared in print in 1999.

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