NEW YORK (Oct. 31)
The American Broadcasting Co. acknowledged today that telephone response to its “News Closeup” program, “Terror in the Promised Land,” aired in most of the country last night, was overwhelmingly negative. But an ABC spokesperson told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that there was strong evidence that most of the protests were part of an organized campaign, probably encouraged by the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith which has branded the broadcast a “totally one-sided pro-Arab terrorist film.”
According to Mary Fifield, director of public relations for ABC News which produces the Closeup series, some 1500-plus negative phone calls were received by ABC in New York and other cities before the program was aired. She said most of these callers read from what appeared to be “prepared scripts” and that many of them were children.
Ms. Fifield said she took a number of calls from children last night. She said that when they were asked why they called, some replied, “because my Hebrew school teacher told me to” or the “rabbi told me to.” She said she thought the ADL was responsible.
PROTEST CALLS FROM ALL OVER
Ms. Fifield said a similar number of calls were received during and after the hour-long program which was aired from 8-9 p.m. Eastern Standard Time and that these seemed “more bonafide.” She said ABC in Washington received 45 calls praising the program and 46 against.
“Terror in the Promised Land” was aired in the Los Angeles area Sunday night in a different time slot. According to Ms. Fifield, the majority of protest calls there were received before the broadcast began. The hour-long documentary, made by ABC staff writer-producer Malcolm Clarke, carried no commercial advertising.
The usual commercial breaks were filled with public service messages broadcast free of charge. Fifield said that the ABC sales department had decided, on the day of broadcast, to “pull” all advertising because of the controversy generated by the broadcast. She explained that sponsors of Closeup buy the entire series as a package and that there was no time to advise advertisers of the controversy.
When reminded that the program had been scheduled months ago, Fifield maintained, nevertheless, that many advertisers were not aware of its content and that it was the decision of the sales department not to involve them with controversial material without their foreknowledge.
She could not say whether or not ABC lost revenue as a result or in what amount. She said the program drew a 10.7 rating and 16 share in New York and about the same in Chicago and Los Angeles. She said she believed this was average for a news documentary broadcast in prime time.
In a statement issued yesterday, ADL general counsel Arnold Forster said the ADL “was denied its request to preview the telecast.” Fifield said it was ABC policy not to preview shows for “special interest groups” unless an endorsement was being sought. It was previewed for the press, including the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.