More bias at PBS

Thomas Lifson
In what appears to be a case of outrageous censorship by publicly-funded PBS, a documentary film, prepared by a partnership including the estimable Frank Gaffney, on the struggle between moderate and radical Muslims has been deep-sixed. We print below a statement prepared by Mr. Gaffney on the situation. Read the linked article and the statement and decide for yourself whether PBS is behaving as the even-handed non-partisan entity it is supposed to be. The statement:

Background

In the spring of 2005, Frank Gaffney was among those invited to submit a proposal for a documentary film about the world post-9/11 to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting's "America at a Crossroads" competition.  Shortly thereafter, a partnership was formed by Mr. Gaffney with Alex Alexiev (an internationally renowned expert on Islamism) and Martyn Burke (an accomplished author and Hollywood director of feature and documentary films) - ABG Films Inc.  ABG proposed to make an hour-long documentary about the plight of moderate Muslims at the hands of their Islamist co-religionists.

This film, with the working title of "Islam vs. Islamists: Voices from the Muslim Center," was one of thirty-five proposals selected by CPB out of roughly 440 competitors for a research and development grant.  The ABG team used this grant to produce a 35-minute short film and written treatment.  The ABG proposal was, in turn, one of 20 competitors further down-selected by CPB to receive a nearly $600,000 production grant.  At the time, moreover, it was announced in a CPB press release that "Islam vs. Islamists" would be one of the Crossroads series films to be aired by the Public Broadcasting Service during eight prime-time hours set aside for that purpose, initially scheduled for the Fall of 2006.

At about the same time as the latter decision was made in early 2006, personnel changes at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting began affecting planning for the Crossroads project.  These ultimately resulted in the entire initiative being turned over to the Public Broadcasting Service and its flagship Washington station, WETA. 

The Trouble Begins

As this transition went forward, "Islam vs. Islamists" began to experience a succession of problems that have been documented in correspondence between ABG's principals and WETA President Sharon Percy Rockefeller.  They started with an unconcealed effort by PBS executives to dissuade CPB from making the production grant to ABG.  The grounds given: two of the film's executive co-producers were associated with an "advocacy" organization (i.e., in their "day-jobs" as President and Vice President, respectively, of the Center for Security Policy).  It was asserted that PBS "guidelines" would not permit such individuals to have a role in determining the content of a film aired on the Public Broadcasting Service's airwaves.

After ABG documented that these guidelines were routinely ignored by PBS and its affiliates - resulting in the frequent broadcasting of films and even series produced by or otherwise associated with left-of-center advocacy organizations - CPB President Pat Harrison decided to approve the production grant for "Islam vs. Islamists."  Even after this decision, PBS continued to insist that it would not broadcast the film unless Messrs. Gaffney and Alexiev were stripped of their Executive Producer roles, delaying by four months the execution of our contract.  PBS asserted this position again, both orally and in writing, once the production funds were finally in hand.

Death of a Thousand Cuts

In the face of ABG's refusal to allow members of its team to be blacklisted, the WETA/PBS Crossroads series management apparently decided to use other means to accomplish the objective of preventing "Islam vs. Islamists" from being aired on the Public Broadcasting Service.  As the attached correspondence makes clear, these included:

  • Hiring as a series producer an individual who made known to ABG the high regard he had for his father, who happens to be a Muslim convert with long-established ties to British Islamists. This producer has repeatedly insisted that changes be made in the structure and "context" of our film in ways that seemed intended to provide a more favorable treatment of the profiled Islamists, compromise the documentary's central concept and greatly complicate its production.
(N.B.  These changes are not to be confused with more straightforward editorial changes which were also proposed throughout the process.  Wherever such suggestions were warranted and constructive, we have incorporated or otherwise responded to them.)

  • Engaging an outside "advisor" to the series whose well-publicized sympathies for known Islamists made it predictable that she would object to our film. In the event, this advisor actually breached her confidentiality agreement and showed the film to interested parties, who promptly threatened litigation if it were not changed to their liking.
  • Handicapping "Islamist vs. Islamist" to the benefit of other films. One also dealing with American Muslims was commissioned - after and altogether outside the Crossroads competition - from Robert MacNeil, who had been brought in by WETA/PBS to serve as the series moderator. In another case, individuals who we had advised the series producers were going to be interviewed during our location-shooting in Canada became unavailable to us when they were invited to be filmed by a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation crew working for another Crossroads film.
  • On 12 February 2007, PBS and WETA informed ABG that "Islam vs. Islamists" had been rejected for airing by the Crossroads series. The reasons given amounted to a repetition of previous complaints that the Islamists and their sympathizers had not been given favorable enough treatment. On 3 April, Mr. MacNeil denounced this film on a nationally syndicated NPR program as "extremely one-sided and alarmist."
Conclusion

PBS/WETA's highly prejudicial treatment of "Islam vs. Islamists" seriously disserves the viewing public insofar as there is, arguably, no more important topic for American (and, we believe, foreign) audiences to understand about the post-9/11 world than the plight of moderate Muslims at the hands of their Islamist enemies - and ours. 

As awareness grows about the "parallel societies" the Islamists are trying to insinuate into Western democracies - and, thereby, to undermine them - the importance and timeliness of this film which illuminates these efforts and their dangers becomes all the more apparent.  CPB should immediately take steps to allow "Islam vs. Islamists" to be seen in the near future by the largest possible audience.  Toward that end, it should make arrangements at once to permit this documentary's distribution by outlets other than PBS.
In what appears to be a case of outrageous censorship by publicly-funded PBS, a documentary film, prepared by a partnership including the estimable Frank Gaffney, on the struggle between moderate and radical Muslims has been deep-sixed. We print below a statement prepared by Mr. Gaffney on the situation. Read the linked article and the statement and decide for yourself whether PBS is behaving as the even-handed non-partisan entity it is supposed to be. The statement:

Background

In the spring of 2005, Frank Gaffney was among those invited to submit a proposal for a documentary film about the world post-9/11 to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting's "America at a Crossroads" competition.  Shortly thereafter, a partnership was formed by Mr. Gaffney with Alex Alexiev (an internationally renowned expert on Islamism) and Martyn Burke (an accomplished author and Hollywood director of feature and documentary films) - ABG Films Inc.  ABG proposed to make an hour-long documentary about the plight of moderate Muslims at the hands of their Islamist co-religionists.

This film, with the working title of "Islam vs. Islamists: Voices from the Muslim Center," was one of thirty-five proposals selected by CPB out of roughly 440 competitors for a research and development grant.  The ABG team used this grant to produce a 35-minute short film and written treatment.  The ABG proposal was, in turn, one of 20 competitors further down-selected by CPB to receive a nearly $600,000 production grant.  At the time, moreover, it was announced in a CPB press release that "Islam vs. Islamists" would be one of the Crossroads series films to be aired by the Public Broadcasting Service during eight prime-time hours set aside for that purpose, initially scheduled for the Fall of 2006.

At about the same time as the latter decision was made in early 2006, personnel changes at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting began affecting planning for the Crossroads project.  These ultimately resulted in the entire initiative being turned over to the Public Broadcasting Service and its flagship Washington station, WETA. 

The Trouble Begins

As this transition went forward, "Islam vs. Islamists" began to experience a succession of problems that have been documented in correspondence between ABG's principals and WETA President Sharon Percy Rockefeller.  They started with an unconcealed effort by PBS executives to dissuade CPB from making the production grant to ABG.  The grounds given: two of the film's executive co-producers were associated with an "advocacy" organization (i.e., in their "day-jobs" as President and Vice President, respectively, of the Center for Security Policy).  It was asserted that PBS "guidelines" would not permit such individuals to have a role in determining the content of a film aired on the Public Broadcasting Service's airwaves.

After ABG documented that these guidelines were routinely ignored by PBS and its affiliates - resulting in the frequent broadcasting of films and even series produced by or otherwise associated with left-of-center advocacy organizations - CPB President Pat Harrison decided to approve the production grant for "Islam vs. Islamists."  Even after this decision, PBS continued to insist that it would not broadcast the film unless Messrs. Gaffney and Alexiev were stripped of their Executive Producer roles, delaying by four months the execution of our contract.  PBS asserted this position again, both orally and in writing, once the production funds were finally in hand.

Death of a Thousand Cuts

In the face of ABG's refusal to allow members of its team to be blacklisted, the WETA/PBS Crossroads series management apparently decided to use other means to accomplish the objective of preventing "Islam vs. Islamists" from being aired on the Public Broadcasting Service.  As the attached correspondence makes clear, these included:

  • Hiring as a series producer an individual who made known to ABG the high regard he had for his father, who happens to be a Muslim convert with long-established ties to British Islamists. This producer has repeatedly insisted that changes be made in the structure and "context" of our film in ways that seemed intended to provide a more favorable treatment of the profiled Islamists, compromise the documentary's central concept and greatly complicate its production.
(N.B.  These changes are not to be confused with more straightforward editorial changes which were also proposed throughout the process.  Wherever such suggestions were warranted and constructive, we have incorporated or otherwise responded to them.)

  • Engaging an outside "advisor" to the series whose well-publicized sympathies for known Islamists made it predictable that she would object to our film. In the event, this advisor actually breached her confidentiality agreement and showed the film to interested parties, who promptly threatened litigation if it were not changed to their liking.
  • Handicapping "Islamist vs. Islamist" to the benefit of other films. One also dealing with American Muslims was commissioned - after and altogether outside the Crossroads competition - from Robert MacNeil, who had been brought in by WETA/PBS to serve as the series moderator. In another case, individuals who we had advised the series producers were going to be interviewed during our location-shooting in Canada became unavailable to us when they were invited to be filmed by a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation crew working for another Crossroads film.
  • On 12 February 2007, PBS and WETA informed ABG that "Islam vs. Islamists" had been rejected for airing by the Crossroads series. The reasons given amounted to a repetition of previous complaints that the Islamists and their sympathizers had not been given favorable enough treatment. On 3 April, Mr. MacNeil denounced this film on a nationally syndicated NPR program as "extremely one-sided and alarmist."
Conclusion

PBS/WETA's highly prejudicial treatment of "Islam vs. Islamists" seriously disserves the viewing public insofar as there is, arguably, no more important topic for American (and, we believe, foreign) audiences to understand about the post-9/11 world than the plight of moderate Muslims at the hands of their Islamist enemies - and ours. 

As awareness grows about the "parallel societies" the Islamists are trying to insinuate into Western democracies - and, thereby, to undermine them - the importance and timeliness of this film which illuminates these efforts and their dangers becomes all the more apparent.  CPB should immediately take steps to allow "Islam vs. Islamists" to be seen in the near future by the largest possible audience.  Toward that end, it should make arrangements at once to permit this documentary's distribution by outlets other than PBS.