Oregon PBS stations to air disputed documentary about Islam

By The Associated Press
05.30.07

WASHINGTON — A television documentary about Islam that has been the subject of a nasty fight between the filmmakers and PBS will see the light of day after all.

"Islam vs. Islamists: Voices From the Muslim Center" will air on the Oregon Public Broadcasting system's five stations in late summer, thanks to an agreement reached last week. The company will also act as distributor for the 52-minute documentary for possible broadcast on other PBS stations nationally.

The documentary was paid for by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a taxpayer-supported private corporation that funds public radio and television stations.

It was one of several the CPB paid for as part of a $20 million project supporting films that would examine the challenges facing the nation following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

The CPB does not produce or distribute programs. WETA, the Washington public television station, oversaw production and packed the series of films for distribution by PBS. After viewing the documentary, WETA and PBS asked the producers to make changes, saying it needed work.

The producers, who include former Reagan administration official Frank Gaffney Jr., claimed the film was held up due to liberal bias. Since then, the film has been in limbo.

The issue escalated when eight members of Congress — seven Republicans and one Democrat — wrote a letter to CPB asking that PBS air the film or allow it to be released elsewhere.

The CPB, having spent $675,000 on the documentary, preferred that it be aired on a public television station. Following the agreement with Oregon Public Broadcasting, CPB President and CEO Patricia Harrison said the agreement "fulfills our responsibility to the taxpayer."

Steve Bass, president and CEO of Oregon Public Broadcasting, has seen the documentary, which is about moderate Muslims who have felt pressured or threatened by extremists.

"I don't see much controversy built into the film," he said. "It's much more about the fact that the documentary hasn't been seen."

As for the quality?

"I would say it is by no means the best documentary ever produced, and it is by no means the worst," he said.

Bass said the music was "a little over the top" and that the film ultimately could have been more effective in making its points.

Regarding the controversy, the "best way to get out of that box" was to air it and let the audience decide.

Bass said the airings will be accompanied by a panel discussion. He said it probably will be broadcast in late summer.