Citizen Action Monitor

TV Ontario shelves powerful drama about 1940’s British Mandate of Palestine and its present-day aftermath

Following 2 cancellations in 2012, TVO again reneges on “likely” February 2013 airing

No 682 Posted by fw, February 21, 2013


In the spring of 2012, The Promise, an award-winning independent television production, which had its UK premier on February 6, 2011, briefly appeared on TVO’s program schedule. Without any explanation, the listing was removed.

As a pro-Palestinian sympathizer, I was eager to see the program. So I emailed TVO – in what was to be the first of a series of exchanges — and asked when the acclaimed 4-part serial would be rescheduled for airing. TVO responded that The Promise would be broadcast in the fall.

In the meantime, I purchased the DVD of The Promise from Amazon UK. (At the time it was unavailable for purchase from (Canada) or (US)). The 4-part series focuses on the post-World-War-2 period in Palestine during the admission of 100,000 new Jewish immigrants into a partitioned territory. Moreover, the story captures the present-day disastrous legacy of the shameful British Mandate of Palestine.

After viewing all 4 episodes I agreed with Christina Patterson’s review in The Independent: “…beautifully shot and extremely well written. It is also extremely balanced…” And Rachel Cooke in the New Statesmen: “…the best thing you are likely to see on TV this year, if not this decade.”

Of course, the positive reaction to The Promise was far from unanimous. For example, Marcus Dysch, writing in The Jewish Chronicle Online, leads with this damning indictment: “A senior Israeli diplomat says that a drama series about British Mandate Palestine is the worst example of anti-Israel propaganda he has ever seen on television.”

For a broad sample of reaction to The Promise, in the UK, France, Australia and other countries, visit Wikipedia at Reception.

Summary of my communication with TVO over The Promise – A Tale of Personal Frustration

As mentioned above, I first contacted TVO when it withdrew The Promise from a brief listing in its spring 2012 program schedule. TVO said the program had been rescheduled for the fall.

When The Promise failed to appear in TVO’s fall listings, I contacted the station again. My request for an explanation of why the program had again been postponed drew this reply:

“Thank you again for responding.  Whenever possible, TVO takes opportunities to explore complicated issues from a variety of perspectives across our different programming strands.  In this case, we’re looking at ways to contextualize the issues raised in this drama series through our current affairs programming and web resources, which takes time.   While we understand that you’re eager to see the series, we’re hoping that you will appreciate our plan to use it as a springboard for discussion and make our programming as enriching as possible for our audience.”

I persisted and asked how soon after using The Promise as a “springboard for discussion” could viewers expect to see the 4-part series. Here’s TVO’s reply”

“Thank you for taking the time to write to TVO.  Unfortunately, the airdate for The Promise has again been rescheduled, likely for broadcast in February 2013.  We truly appreciate your interest and apologize for the further delay.  I will share your feedback with the appropriate people.”

However, no listing for the program appeared in the February schedule; once again TVO failed to meet this broadcast date. I emailed TVO again requesting an explanation for this third cancellation. And when no response was forthcoming, I phoned the station. Here are scattered bits of that conversation that I jotted down on a note pad –

“TVO is undergoing staff changes” and “shifting its programming strategy”. In particular, “social issue programming has changed”. A new Director of Content Programming says they are “looking for a new programming slot” in which “to fit The Promise” but “no decision has been made or will likely be made in the near future.” I was reassured that TVO was under no pressure from external sources to cancel the show.

Bottom line – It looks as though TVO has canned The Promise for the duration.


What is it about The Promise that may have spooked TVO?

In a phrase, I would speculate that “fear of stirring up divisive controversy” may have spooked TVO. The last thing an ultra-conservative, publicly-funded TV station wants is to air controversial material that risks offending viewers. And The Promise is certainly controversial.

200px-The_Promise_(2011)_DVD_coverConsider the explosive plot — Just as 18-year-old Londoner Erin Matthews sets off to spend the summer in Israel with her best friend, Eliza Meyer, she unearths an old diary belonging to her seriously ill grandfather, Leonard “Len” Matthews. Intrigued by the life of an old man she barely knows, she takes the diary with her, and is stunned to learn of his part as a soldier in the post-WWII British peace-keeping force in what was then Palestine — a peace-keeping force that eventually abandons Palestine and its Arab inhabitants. Left to her own devices, after her friend Eliza begins National Service in the Israeli army, Erin witnesses the complexities of life — for both Jews and Arabs — in this troubled land. And as Len’s story comes to life in flashbacks from the pages of the diary, Erin discovers the disturbing truths about his time in Palestine and the atrocities he witnessed when Jewish immigrants resorted to armed violence to secure a foothold in Palestine. Retracing Len’s steps in modern-day Israel, Erin sets out on a heart-breaking journey in an effort to understand the conflict, and, above all, morally impelled to fulfill a promise that her grandfather had made as a British soldier to a Palestinian father driven out of Palestine with his family by Jewish terrorist militias.


Viewing options for pro-Palestinian activists or interested members of the public who want to see The Promise

  • Lobby TVO – Ontario groups of pro-Palestinian activists might have more leverage lobbying TVO to air The Promise than I had as an individual. If you are going to lobby TVO, a phone call to Customer Relations at 1-800-463-6886 (1.800.INFO.TVO) or 416-484-2665 (GTA) will likely be more effective than sending an email using TVO’s online Questions and Comments form:
  • Purchase the DVD – It’s available for sale at ( ) or from (US) ( ). IMPORTANT NOTES: 1) The DVD version is a UK Region 2 PAL format that will not play on North American Region 1 DVD players. So you either have to have a Region-Free player or other player capable of playing Region 2 DVDs. 2) Playing time for this multi-disc 4-part serial is almost 6 hours).
  • Video of Episode 1 of Peter Kominsky’sThe Promise is available here on You Tube


  • Video of part 1 of Peter Kominsky’sThe Promise (Note: You Tube may block this video)


  • Excellent Wikipedia entry on The Promise (2011 TV serial) includes –


  • SBS Ombudsman response to complaints about “The Promise” 26 Jan 12 — “Galus Australis  –  23 January 2012 I write in relation to your formal complaint to SBS (Special Broadcasting Service) about The Promise, a four-part series broadcast by SBS on four consecutive Sunday evenings from 27 November 2011. Your complaint was among a number of complaints investigated, then reviewed and determined by the Australia’s SBS Complaints Committee …” [This report covers numerous complaints received by and answered by SBS]

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