Freedom of Speech

I have been hosting radio for approximately 11 years, before that for 7 or 8 years I worked as a print journalist and commentary writer. I’ve worked for commercial stations and am currently at 1650 AM Radio Shalom, the Montreal Jewish community radio station. In my entire career, I have never experienced a phenomenon that seems to permiate the listeners of this radio station. It’s not a bad thing, most radio stations would love to have their listeners infected with this infliction, at least it proves a listenership that listens and cares, for me and my show, I appreciate it, it makes us feel good that people want to be part of the show.

The affliction I’m talking about is very familiar with people who work within the framework of the Jewish community (and dare I say any minority community). Synaogue presidents, rabbis and even cantors are on the receiving end of people who suffer from this and there is no cure.

The affliction I’m referring to is the constant and sometimes annoying habit of some Montreal Jewish Community members who think they know how to do your job better than you. Always critical, never helpful, the people afflicted with this virus feel that they HAVE to call or approach you with severe and heavy criticism over how you do your job.

It never fails. Moments after I turn on the microphone at Radio Shalom and start my three times a week 2 hour news/commentary show, we get a phone call or an email chastizing us for covering a controversial topic. If the topic is very controversial, the phone calls can add up to dozens or multiple dozens, as they did last week when I tackled, what seemed to me to be a no-brainer issue, the Crown Heights Chabad Community standing in solidarity with a thief.

So many calls poured into the station that the executive committee called an emergency meeting to discuss how to handle the situation. What amazes me, however, is that the open line show everyone was complaining about only received three or four calls in the entire 2 hour broadcast. I have to point out that not all the calls came from Chabadniks.

This leads me to believe the following:

1. The Montreal Orthodox Jewish Community does not believe in freedom of speech. Many of the callers to the management of the station demanded that I be censored, removed from the air or forced to apologize to the Chabad community.

2. The Montreal Orthodox Jewish Community is comprised of cowards. How else do you explain that members of said community decided to call everyone and their uncle associated with the radio station, but refrained from calling me, either on the show, or at my private extension at the station.

3. The Montreal Orthodox Jewish Community doesn’t understand the concept of radio. Radio is a NOW media. It’s hard hitting and instant.

Last night I covered the unbelievable and unfortunate story of Shirel Attar, a 14 year old Montreal girl who was brutally murdered. Her 18 year old brother Maor Attar was charged with 1st degree murder in the case. I could have come onto the air and detailed the bloody and horrific events of the murder. I could have gotten friends of both the alleged perpetrator and victim on the air with me to diafy the victim and demonize the alleged perpetrator. I could have made the story into a sensational media event, released information we have that is not publicly known, shamelessly promote the show and experienced a great ratings influx. I chose not to.

I felt that as a Jewish radio station, we had the responsibility to cover the murder, but at the same time dignify the sadness of the event and respect the shock and grief of the family and community. So I approached the show differently, with only mentioning the victims name once in the entire two hours, I posed the following three questions:

1. What lessons can we learn as a community from a horrific act of violence such as this one?

2. As a parent, will this event make you think twice about leaving your young teens at home alone?

3. As a parent, will this event make you take a good long hard look at your kids and perhaps make you recognize a problem that you didn’t see before?

It was inevidable, three calls came in almost instantly berating me for touching the topic. Caller Jacob pointed out that the girl wasn’t even buried yet and here I am talking about the case on air. Another caller chastised me for allowing a listener to express that perhaps the young man who is accused of committing the murder had psychological problems (which by the way is being questioned by police authorities as pointed out by a front page story in today’s Montreal Gazette). The third caller accused me of being insensitive to the family of the victim.

All three callers suggested that perhaps I chose to do the show too soon and I should have waited at least two weeks for the family to get up from shiva before I even looked at the topic.

Two weeks is an eternity when it comes to topical news shows. What these callers failed to understand and what the Montreal Jewish Community continues to fail to understand is that we live in an instant world.

Within minutes of the first reports of the murder, I had the name of the victim, certain personal information about the victim and the alleged perpetrator and speculation from people who knew them that the brother perhaps killed the sister. If I had received the information an hour earlier, I would have reported the event on Monday night’s radio show.

On The Howie Silbiger Show we talk about things going on right now. When the Neturai Karta was protesting in Cote St Luc, we were on the air urging people to go out and counter protest, when anything big happens in the Jewish community we are there.

The community will have to get used to instant inforation, that is the nature of radio, that is the nature of my show and it is not going to change.

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