Producer: PBS dropped 'Islam vs. Islamists' on political grounds
The Arizona Republic
Apr. 10, 2007 12:00 AM
The producer of a tax-financed documentary on Islamic extremism claims his film has been dropped for political reasons from a television series that airs next week on more than 300 PBS stations nationwide.
Key portions of the documentary focus on Dr. M. Zuhdi Jasser of Phoenix and his American Islamic Forum for Democracy, a non-profit organization of Muslim Americans who advocate patriotism, constitutional democracy and a separation of church and state.
Martyn Burke says that the Public Broadcasting Service and project managers at station WETA in Washington, D.C., excluded his documentary, Islam vs. Islamists, from the series America at a Crossroads after he refused to fire two co-producers affiliated with a conservative think tank.
"I was ordered to fire my two partners (who brought me into this project) on political grounds," Burke said in a complaint letter to PBS and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which supplied funds for the films.
Burke wrote that his documentary depicts the plight of moderate Muslims who are silenced by Islamic extremists, adding, "Now it appears to be PBS and CPB who are silencing them."
A Jan. 30 news release by the corporation listed Islam vs. Islamists as one of eight films to be presented in the opening series.
Mary Stewart, vice president of external affairs at WETA, said Burke's documentary was not completed on time to be among 11 documentaries that will be aired beginning Sunday. Stewart said the picture may be broadcast by PBS at a later date.
"The film is a strong film," Stewart said. "I'm still hoping to see this in the Crossroads initiative."
Jeff Bieber, WETA's executive producer for Crossroads, gave a substantially different explanation. He said Burke's film had "serious structural problems (and) . . . was irresponsible because the writing was alarmist, and it wasn't fair."
"They're crying foul, and there was no foul ball," Bieber added. "The problem is in their film."
Federally funded films
The controversy involves a collection of documentaries financed with $20 million in federal grants from the corporation, which conceived Crossroads in 2004 to enhance public understanding of terrorism, homeland security and other crucial issues in the post-9/11 era. Independent filmmakers submitted 430 proposals. Full production grants were given to 21 of those, including Islam vs. Islamists, which received $700,000.
Subtitled Voices From the Muslim Center, Burke says his film "attempts to answer the question: 'Where are the moderate Muslims?' The answer is, 'Wherever they are, they are reviled and sometimes attacked' " by extremists.
Michael Levy, a spokesman for CPB, said the corporation set up the Crossroads project and provided funding, but turned over management and content control to PBS and WETA 13 months ago.
After that, Burke says in his Feb. 23 complaint letter, he "consistently encountered actions by the PBS series producers that violate the basic tenets of journalism in America."
PBS officials turned down interview requests.
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