Lawmakers Want PBS to Air Spiked Film on Islam

By Fred Lucas | July 7, 2008 | 8:06pm EDT

( - Members of Congress are weighing in on public broadcasting executives' decision to shelve a documentary on the struggles moderate Muslims in the West face at the hands of radicals.

A special screening of the film "Islam vs. Islamists: Voices from the Muslim Center" for members of Congress was sponsored Wednesday evening by Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and James Inhofe (R-Okla.) and Reps. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) and Brad Sherman (D-Calif.). The screening drew about 150 people, said Martyn Burke, one of the producers.

"People came up to us afterward asking 'how can we help,'" Burke told Cybercast News Service.

On Thursday, Franks drafted a letter, which he hopes other members of Congress will sign, urging the Public Broadcasting Service to air the documentary that it chose to keep out of the series "America at Crossroads."

The letter won't be critical of PBS but will urge the station to air the documentary, said Franks' spokesman, Bethany Barker.

The film - co-produced by Burke, a Hollywood producer, and Frank Gaffney and Alex Alexiev of the Center for Security Policy - deals with the experiences of moderate Muslims who have fallen foul of Islamists.

It also reveals an Islamist agenda including a push to build "parallel societies" in the West governed by Islamic law.

Burke, Gaffney and Alexiev have said PBS decided to shelve the documentary - which cost $675,000 in taxpayers' money to produce - because of censorship. (See Related Story)

"This is classic writer versus editor. This is classic producer versus studio conundrum," said Michael Leavy, spokesman for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which helps fund PBS programming but plays no role in content. "An impasse has been reached."

Still, PBS has publicly been vague about the reason for the decision. The clearest indication from a PBS spokesman was Robert MacNeil telling the "Diane Rehm Show" that the documentary was "one-sided" and "alarmist."

Spokesmen have also claimed that the film was unfinished, while maintaining it could be aired on a later date.

While calling the film alarmist is a subjective view, to say the film wasn't completed on time is simply wrong, Burke said.

"It's under contract we have final control of the film," Burke said. "We tried to satisfy them. We re-edited. But it became apparent that we were working in a corrupt journalistic environment."

It wasn't censorship, Leavy told Cybercast News Service. Rather, he said, the film violated PBS standards and the grant agreement.

As far as what aspects of the documentary fell short of the standards, Leavy said he was not authorized to say, because the CPB is only responsible for funding programs, not their content. He deferred comment on the matter to PBS and WETA of Washington, both of which backed the "America at Crossroads" series.

Yet earlier this week, PBS spokesman Joe Deplasco referred Cybercast News Service queries to the CPB. Spokespersons from PBS and WETA did not return phone calls Thursday.

The PBS standards say, "Respect for the process demands that producers be allowed the freedom required for creativity to flourish." They add, "Content diversity furthers the goals of democratic society by enhancing public access to the full range of ideas."

However, PBS brass reportedly sent Burke a note, asking him, "Don't you check the politics of the people you work with?" - apparently a reference to Gaffney, who is president of the conservative think tank, the Center for Security Policy.

The standards also say, "PBS may condition acceptance of content on the producer's willingness to further the goal of balance by deleting designated footage or by including other points of view on issues presented or material from which the public might draw a conclusion different from the suggested by the content."

PBS executives reportedly sent notes to the producers, saying their film would "demonize Islam."

Leavy told Cybercast News Service that the documentary could yet be distributed on local PBS stations that may be interested. However, alternate distribution wouldn't provide national coverage.

"We are looking at alternate distribution as a pathway to public television and our member stations," he said.

But Burke was unimpressed with the suggestion.

"That means it would be in Albuquerque at 3 in the morning or on Sunday morning when no one is watching," he said. "It's farcical to even say that."

See Earlier Stories:
Moderate Muslims Speak Out, But Not on PBS (April 25, 2007)
PBS Accused of Same Tactics Radical Muslims Use Against Moderates (April 25, 2005)

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