NEW YORK (Aug. 29)
As the Sept. 6 broadcast date for a controversial Public Broadcasting Service documentary on the Palestinians approaches, Jewish leaders are continuing to voice their displeasure over the decision to air the film.
Last week, representatives of Jewish groups met with PBS executives in Washington. The session was a follow-up to similar meetings in New York with executives of WNET-TV, the station sponsoring the documentary, titled “Days of Rage: The Young Palestinians.”
The series of meetings was organized by Martin Raffel, director of the Israel Task Force of the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council.
Raffel said the Aug. 23 session was set up “to discuss the decision to broadcast the film in the first place, as well as the perception that there’s been an imbalance in recent months in their programming.”
Over the past year, PBS has aired several programs that some have perceived as attacking Israel, including an episode of its “Frontline” program on the topic of U.S.-Israel strategic cooperation and a film titled “A Letter from Palestine.”
PBS executives Neil Mahrer, Lance Ozier and Barry Chase, who took part in the meeting, sought to defend the network’s record on fairness in presenting the Arab-Israeli conflict.
“They felt that this is something to be viewed over time,” Raffel said. “They hope that over a period of years, you could conclude that they presented a balanced picture.”
SUPPLEMENTARY FOOTAGE FROM ISRAEL
The PBS officials also stood by their decision to present “Days of Rage,” pointing out that PBS has a tradition of presenting “point-of-view” documentaries by independent filmmakers that do not necessarily present issues objectively.
They said they were equally as open to presenting independent films favorable to the Israeli perspective as they were to airing “Days of Rage.”
Ozier, who is vice president of programming and business affairs at PBS, said in a telephone interview that from the beginning, when the original decision to air “Days of Rage” was made, PBS determined that the pro-Palestinian documentary needed “a balancing factor.”
In an effort to create such a balance, WNET has produced 14 minutes of additional documentary footage shot in Israel, and panel discussion to follow it, in order to address what they admit is a lack of mainstream Israeli voices in “Days of Rage.”
The wrap-around programming includes a seven-minute piece preceding the film featuring Cabinet Minister Ehud Olmert, who is Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir’s adviser on Arab affairs, and a number of “average Israelis,” expressing their concerns over security.
Another seven-minute piece following “Days of Rage” shows the Israeli response to the documentary’s accusations of Israeli human-rights violations.
Afterward, a 45-minute panel discussion will be aired. Representatives from the American Jewish and American Arab communities, as well as U.S. government officials, participate in the panel, which was taped on July 25.
WNET has spent $150,000 on programming that will surround the 90-minute film, expanding the entire presentation to two-and-a-half hours.
The package, which WNET has entitled “Intifada: Israel and the Palestinians,” will be distributed to PBS affiliates across the United States.