PBS Accused of Same Tactics Radical Muslims Use Against Moderates

By Kevin Mooney | July 7, 2008 | 8:06 PM EDT

(CNSNews.com) - Public Broadcasting Service officials who have refused to air a documentary on moderate Muslims are using the same tools of suppression and censorship Islamists employ to stymie debate, a documentary-maker charged Tuesday.

"Islam vs. Islamists: Voices from the Muslim Center," a 52-minute, taxpayer-funded documentary, was originally slated to be screened as part of an 11-part PBS series called "America at a Crossroads," examining post-9/11 challenges facing the nation.

The series began airing for the first time last week on WETA, the Washington, D.C., PBS affiliate, but "Islam vs. Islamists" has been dropped from the lineup.

Hollywood veteran Martyn Burke of ABG films co-produced the film with Frank Gaffney, president of the Center for Security Policy, and Gaffney's CSP colleague Alex Alexiev, who specializes in Islamic extremism.

The film, which cost more than $600,000 to produce, focuses on conflicts that have erupted within the Muslim community in the U.S., Canada, Denmark and France.

The producers held a private screening in Washington, D.C., Tuesday, joined by three of the "anti-Islamist Muslims" featured in the film -- Danish parliamentarian Naser Khader, Islamic Forum for Democracy President M. Zuhdi Jasser, and French-Algerian journalist Mohammed Sifaoui. Also attending on behalf of the Islamic Supreme Council of America was Hedieh Miramahdi.

Burke told the audience that PBS and WETA advisors and producers had objected to the participation of conservatives Gaffney and Alexiev. A "bitter fight" ensued over the content of the film, and the PBS/WETA criticisms became increasingly "hysterical," he said.

"PBS is doing what the Islamists are doing," Burke charged. "They are silencing these people [Muslim moderates]."

The producers said PBS replaced their film with another one, "The Muslim Americans," which Gaffney called "a triumph for the Islamists," saying it promoted a perspective in line with that of America's enemies. For his part, Alexiev claimed that the replacement film paints a "fawning portrait" of U.S. organizations with extremist ties.

Alexiev also noted a conflict of interest: He said the replacement film was produced by Robert MacNeil, who also hosts the "Crossroads" series.

MacNeil was therefore allowed to produce his own film and at the same time was "the key guy who decided what gets cut," he claimed.

PBS spokesman Joe Deplasco told Cybercast News Service the Burke-Gaffney-Alexiev film was unfinished and could not be shown. He said he was aware of their arguments, but declined to comment on them, referring further queries on the subject to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) - a private body funded by the federal government to promote public broadcasting through PBS.

CPB officials did not return calls Tuesday.

Asked about "The Muslims in America," Deplasco said the decision to include it in the series was made for sound reasons. As the "Crossroads" project went forward, he said, the PBS-WETA producers felt that there "something missing" about everyday Muslim life. Consequently, they decided to use "The Muslim Americans."

Deplasco said films that did not make the cut for the series may still be considered for airing later as "stand alone" pieces.

But the "Islam vs. Islamists" filmmakers contend that their product is complete and in no need of further editing.

"We are at the end of the road with PBS," Gaffney said. "They have rejected the film we have made; they are insisting on structural and textual changes that would essentially eviscerate the message."

The next step, Gaffney explained, was to ask the CPB to relinquish distribution rights to the film so it can be viewed by the American people "in another medium."

In a letter to the CPB board last March, Burke, Gaffney and Alexiev said criticism of their film was based on a serious, perhaps willful misinterpretation of its message and its method.

Roger Aronoff, a media analyst with Accuracy with Media, told Cybercast News Service Tuesday that while he has not seen the film that PBS refuses to air as part of the series, his organization has had "issues with PBS over the years."

The broadcaster, he said, has "a long record of airing primarily left-leaning documentaries."

"The fact that they aired other documentaries as part of the 'America at a Crossroads' series that arguably represent a conservative point of view gives them some plausible deniability when they say that [neither] Gaffney's viewpoint nor his association with an advocacy group is why they shelved his film," Aronoff said. "But Gaffney's film, according to reports, represents an important point of view that needs to be heard."

"It is for just these types of situations that we have long advocated that tax dollars and politically biased programming do not mix," he added. "Do we really want political appointees deciding what views deserve airing, and which do not? No. Let's let the marketplace decide."

See Related Story:
Moderate Muslims Speak Out, But Not on PBS

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