May
01
1989

Public TV Censorship Under Fire

The PBS affiliate owned by the City of New Tork, WNYC-TV, has become the target of protests over its suppression of two national programs--the weekly investigative news show the Kwitny Report, and the documentary Days of Rage: The Young Palestinians. FAIR organized a picketline outside WNYC offices on May 23.

Much of the controversy at WNYC—TV has surrounded the station’s new vice president, Chloe Aaron, a key figure in quashing both programs. Critics say she functions more as a political censor than a news programmer.

Jo Franklin-Trout's Days of Rage

Image from "Days of Rage," a PBS documentary on the Palestinian uprising.

Days of Rage looks at the Israeli military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip through the eyes of Palestinian youths. Produced by longtime MacNeil/Lehrer stiffer Jo Franklin-Trout, the sober, understated documentary has been well- received by critics (L.A. Times, 4/22/89). But Aaron censored the documentary on explicitly political grounds (New York Times, 5/2/89), comparing it to a Leni Reifenstahl Nazi propaganda film.

WNYC was to have been the originating station for the national PBS airing of the Palestinian documentary on June 5, along with a follow-up panel discussion. After WNYC pulled out, New York's bigger PBS affiliate, WNET, said that it would act as the documentary's national presenter, but not until September, because time was needed to assemble its own follow-up panel. In response, filmmaker Franklin-Trout expressed doubts her film would ever see airtime on PBS, recalling that she assembled such panels at MacNeil/Lehrer in two hours time. Her film has been scheduled and rescheduled many times.

Chloe Aaron was also the main player in canceling the Kwitny Report, the only WNYC-produced weekly show to be picked up by the national PBS network. Hosted by former Wall Street Journal reporter Jonathan Kwitny, the program has broken new ground in TV journalism. Among its major achievements: an expose of the human rights abuses committed by CIA-backed UNITA guerrillas in Angola led by Jonas Savimbi; a two-part examination of US complicity in Guatemalan death squad activity; and a rare program, featuring FAIR advisory board member Ben Bagdikian, on the companies that own our media.

Aaron claims that the Kwitny Report was dropped for purely financial reasons, but Aaron herself reportedly undercut the show's fundraising efforts, and is well-known for meddling in the program over its political point of view, which is often critical of US policy (Village Voice, 5/16/89).

FAIR has called upon PBS to save the Kwitny Report, and to air the Palestinian documentary in June as planned without further delays.

SIDEBAR:

Toward a Truly 'Public' Broadcasting System
Imagine a public broadcasting system where the programmers are insulated from political pressure and are not beholden to corporate money . Just such a system is outlined in a proposal which has yet to find a sponsor in Congress, although four offices have shown interest: John Dingell (D.-Mich.), Ed Markey (D.-Mass.), Ron Wyden (D.-Ore.) and Al Swift (D.-Wash.).

The plan, developed by the Working Group for Public Broadcasting, would end the influence of corporate and federal government paymasters. An abundant, stable funding base would be assured (more than $600 million yearly for programming) through a 2 percent levy on imports and and factory sales of consumer appliances such as radios, TVs and VCRs.  The Working Group includes media reformers Ben Bagdikian, Henry Geller, Leanne Katz and Everett Parker, and is coordinated by Professor John Wicklein. Wicklein’s plea for a revamped public broadcasting system  appeared in the New York Times (2/26/89, section 2, page 35). For a free copy of the full plan, write Professor Wicklein, School of Journalism, Ohio State University, 242 W. 15th Avenue, Columbus, OH 43210-1107.

<div id="extra-index-link"><a href="http://fair.org/extra-issues/extra-may-june-1989">Extra! May/June 1989</a></div>