Oregon Public Broadcasting has agreed to distribute controversial documentary Islam vs. Islamists: Voices From the Muslim Center after PBS said the show was incomplete and would not distribute it as delivered.
"As it stood, it did not meet our editorial standards," said a PBS spokeswoman. "We felt that it was missing some context." PBS asked the producers to add that context but, "they believe the film is done," she said.
Apparently so did CPB. Steve Bass, President and CEO or Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB), says that CPB reached out and he concluded stations should have the opportunity to make their own decision about airing the show. H e plans to give them that opportunity in the next 2-3 months.
CPB spokesman Michael Levy said that CPB had a fiduciary obligation to see that the show made it to air. "We are stewards of the federal apporpriation and the principal underwriter of the show," he said. "We have a duty to the American taxpayer to insure that investment is realized."Bass has seen the show and says it does lack context, but that OPB will produce follow-on discussion program help put it in perspective. So--why air it? "When something like this becomes an object of controversy, and is a program that people haven't seen, you are generally better off putting it out there," says Bass. "And I think it plays to public broadcasting's strength, which is that we are a collection of local institutions that make our own independent editorial decisions."
The documentary is part of the CPB-funded America at the Crossroads series primarily looking at issues surrounding terrorism and the Middle East. PBS scheduled 11 Crossroads films in April, but not Islam vs. Islamists, which PBS says was never slated for April.
Islam vs. Islamists, says Bass, deals with "five or six specific incidents in various countries of radicals putting pressure on centrists, but what you don't get is the broader context of how prevalent this is," he says. "Are these isolated incidents or is this part of a pattern."
Some conservatives have suggested that liberals don't like that the show is critical of the Council on American-Islamic Relations and that it questions whether it is really the "moderate" voice of Arab-Americans.
Clearly, Bass did not agree with PBS that the show should be edited to make it to air. "I took a pragmatic approach to this," says Bass. "Given the producers feelings, it was not going to be possible to edit, we looked at it and said that, putting it in some context with the follow-on discussion, we think we can mitigate any of the challenges the program has." He says he has contacted a number of stations and the "vast majority" have expressed interest in seeing the show.
The America at the Crossroads is a hold-over from the era of former CPB Chairman Ken Tomlinson, who was criticized for trying to inject more conservative programming into what he saw as a liberally biased public broadcasting system .