TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Re: WGBH Delays Show Featuring Lesbians

Re: WGBH Delays Show Featuring Lesbians
31 Jan 2005 18:13:23 -0800

Monty Solomon posted:

> By Suzanne C. Ryan, Globe Staff | January 22, 2005
> WGBH-TV (Channel 2) has pushed back airing an episode of its new
> 'Arthur' spinoff "Postcards From Buster" because the episode features
> a lesbian couple and their three children.<snip>

Listen via WI public radio or via the internet (see below)

6:00 AM CST Time Joy Cardin - 02/01A

Last week Education Secretary Margaret Spellings denounced an episode
of a PBS kid's show for featuring a lesbian couple and their
children. But, Joy Cardin's guest, after six, says such programs teach
kids to respect and value diversity. Guest: Steven Fisher,
communications director, Human Rights Campaign. * * * * *


PBS Censors Postcards From Buster
Episode featuring lesbian moms deemed not 'appropriate'

January 31, 2005

PBS has pulled an episode of the children's show Postcards From Buster
that includes children with lesbian mothers. The episode was yanked
the same day that PBS received a letter from new Secretary of
Education Margaret Spellings condemning the episode and asking PBS to
"strongly consider" returning the federal money that went toward its

In the episode, Buster, an animated rabbit, visits Vermont, where he
learns how maple sugar is made and visits the home of real-life
children who invite him in for dinner and introduce him to their "mom
and Gillian."

WGBH, the Boston PBS affiliate station that produced the program,
still plans to air the pulled episode and make it available to other
stations, but without PBS or Department of Education support
(Washington Times, 12/27/05).

PBS chief operating officer Wayne Godwin and spokesperson Lea Sloan
gave a variety of reasons for PBS's decision to censor the show;
Godwin said the episode brought up an issue that was "best left for
parents and children to address together at a time and manner of their
own choosing," while Sloan said it was "sensitive in today's political
climate" (Associated Press, 1/27/05). Godwin also pointed out that
some children wouldn't have a parent with them to "put it in context"
(Washington Post, 1/27/05), but at the same time indicated that it was
precisely the context that parents and media coverage gave the episode
that created the problem:

"The concern really was that there's a point where background becomes
foreground. No matter if the parents were intended to be background,
with this specific item in this particular program they might simply
be foreground because of press attention to it and parental attention
to it" (New York Times, 1/27/05).

Godwin went on to claim the episode conflicted with PBS's purpose:
"The presence of a couple headed by two mothers would not be
appropriate curricular purpose that PBS should provide."

It's a disturbing view for the COO of PBS to hold, particularly since
public television's mandate as set forth in the 1967 Carnegie
Commission Report is to "provide a voice for groups in the community
that may otherwise be unheard," to serve as "a forum for controversy
and debate," and to broadcast programs that "help us see America
whole, in all its diversity."

Indeed, it would seem that PBS's decision to drop the episode would
more likely violate the terms of its Education Department grant than
would the episode itself; the grant requires funded programs to:

"appeal to all of America's children by providing them with content
and characters with which they can identify. Diversity will be
incorporated into the fabric of the series to help children understand
and respect differences and learn to live in a multicultural
society. The series will avoid stereotypical images of all kinds and
show modern multi-ethnic/lingual/cultural families and children."

Previous families featured in Postcards episodes have included
Mormons, Hmong and Pentecostal Christians. It's hard to interpret
PBS's selective reading of its own mandate in the censorship of
Postcards as anything but political pandering in the face of
government threats; Spellings' letter included the blunt reminder that
"two years ago the Senate Appropriations Committee raised questions
about the accountability of funds appropriated for Ready-To-Learn
programs" (Washington Post, 1/27/05). What's more, according to a New
York Times report (1/27/05), PBS officials -- including PBS president
Pat Mitchell -- screened the Vermont episode and deemed it appropriate
just a few days before pulling it.

Unfortunately, PBS's decision is hardly surprising, given its history
of moving to the right under pressure from conservative critics. The
network recently added two conservative public affairs programs to its
lineup, apparently to "balance" the alleged liberal bias of NOW With
Bill Moyers. At the time, Moyers had already announced his intended
retirement, and since his departure the show has been cut back to half
an hour (see FAIR Action Alert, 9/17/04).

And this wouldn't be the first time PBS has backed down on gay and
lesbian issues; in 1994, PBS refused to provide funding for a second
year of its popular and critically acclaimed miniseries Tales of the
City, which included gay characters. The show had prompted the
American Family Association to call PBS the "Homosexual Pride
Tax-Funded TV Network" and urge their followers to "shut down"
PBS. Though PBS called the decision financial, Tales was actually a
remarkably profitable series (Extra!, 7-8/94).

Just two years earlier, when New York City PBS affiliate WNYC began
producing In the Life, television's first nationwide gay-oriented
show, conservatives had vigorously attacked public television from the
Senate floor. Former Republican Sen. Bob Dole railed, "It seems that
the broadcasting apologists are hiding behind Big Bird, Mr. Rogers and
Masterpiece Theatre, laying down their quality smokescreen while they
shovel out funding for gay and lesbian shows" (Village Voice, 6/30/92;
see also Extra!, 6/93). In the face of such threats and criticism, PBS
refused to distribute the show; over 10 years later, the program still
receives no financial or distribution support from PBS.

ACTION: Please contact PBS and ask them to support programming
according to their mandate, not political pressures.


Pat Mitchell, President and CEO
Phone: (703) 739-5000

Or use the PBS comment form:

You might also want to contact your local PBS affiliate to encourage
them to air the censored episode of Postcards From Buster:

As always, please remember that your comments have more impact if you
maintain a polite tone. Please cc fair@f... with your correspondence.

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