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American Jewish Committee Warns Broadcasting Industry on Bigots

December 23, 1966
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

The American broadcasting industry was urged today by the American Jewish Committee to police itself against abuses on programs such as the Alan Burke Show and the Joe Pyne Show which are providing a platform for bigots to spread their propaganda to large audiences.

“We bar the airwaves to frauds, slanderers and pornographers. Why, then, open them to bigots, who often represent no one but their own warped selves, and whose invited appearances on certain programs are meant only to irritate, not to educate?” the AJ Committee asked. It referred especially to abuses of “talk-back” programs, stating that “in their mad dash for ever more sensational guests, the producers provide big audiences for some exceedingly questionable characters.”

The AJ Committee cited a recent interview with David Susskind in which the television producer said he was not concerned that “kooks and bigots” were getting the limelight on the ground that they quickly exposed themselves under the camera’s clinical eye. “But is this so?” the Committee statement asked. “Too often, guests on these programs are masters of the ‘big-lie’ technique, and frequently neither the moderator, no matter how angry he pretends to become, nor questioners from the studio audience are equipped to nail the lies. Yet we know only too well what tragedy big lies can beget.”

As examples, the Committee cited two recent cases. In one, a Negro anti-Semite made the charge, unanswered on the program, that Jewish school principals in Harlem were directly responsible for Negro children’s poor learning records. In the other, a notorious bigot made the “wild allegation” that Jews had plotted to drag the United States into World War I so as to win support for the idea of a Jewish homeland.

The Committee hailed the intent of the Federal Communications Commission in insisting that broadcasters air public issues and provide a hearing for all points of view. It said that some programs genuinely fill this responsibility. “Unfortunately,” it added, “with audience response the be-all and end-all, their ratings appear to have been too low.”

“The ‘talk-back’ format was evidently designed to provide more entertainment, yet stay within FCC rules,” the statement continued. “But whether they conform to these rules or not, some ‘talk-back’ shows clearly violate the intent of the broadcasting industry’s own code. In doing so, they inflict great harm on the public and on the industry — harm that could be avoided if broadcasting were to police itself according to the spirit as well as the letter of its own standards.”

The Television Code of the National Association of Broadcasters stresses the importance of choosing responsible persons for public affairs broadcasts: “The television broadcaster should seek out and develop with accountable individuals, groups and organizations, programs relating to controversial public issues of import.” the Code says.

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