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Ad-hoc biz bloc levels PBS censorship charges

Oliver Stone, David Zucker and Jane Alexander are among a growing list of industry veterans who are organizing to protest what they say are censorship practices by the Public Broadcasting System.

The budding coalition–which so far is just an ad hoc organization of like-minded filmmakers–contends that PBS will not air product that could offend government agencies and large corporations, which provide a portion of its funding. Members estimate that dozens of well-made and award-winning but controversial films have been rejected, although they are hopeful that PBS policies will be less restrictive once the Bill Clinton administration is in place.

“It’s not so much an individual corporation keeping an individual film off the air. It’s more self-censorship on the part of PBS and its attitude of keeping political films off its network for fear of offending,” said documentarian and coalition leader Mark Mori.

“It’s an important issue, because PBS was created to air programming that (commercial) networks wouldn’t run, for the public good and underserved audiences. But now they’ve come under corporate bureaucratic control.”

Jennifer Lawson, PBS’ executive vice president for national programming and promotion services, denies any pressure from corporations or the government, which she said combined provide about a third of the network’s funding. The rest comes from memberships, fund-raisers, state governments and private foundations.

“There’s no question that PBS has been criticized for years because of the programs we have broadcast. But we base our decisions on the integrity and importance of the material, not who may be offended. Historically, PBS has broadcast controversial programs, but has continued to receive corporate and federal support,” Lawson said.

She cited as examples “Death of a Princess,” a documentary about Saudi Arabian women; “Tongues Untied,” about being black and gay; and “Roger and Me,” Michael Moore’s unflattering portrait of General Motors and its former chairman, Roger Smith.

The coalition’s efforts have broadened from an initial campaign to overturn PBS’ rejection of two highly regarded films: Debra Chasnoff’s 1991 Academy Award-winning “Deadly Deception: General Electric, Nuclear Weapons and Our Environment,” and “Building Bombs,” Mori’s 1990 Oscar-nominated film about a South Carolina nuclear arms factory’s environmental devastation.

The group will publicize its stand with a full-page ad in early December in Daily Variety, signed by the aforementioned, as well as David Geffen, Jack Lemmon and Ed Asner, among others.

Organizations such as the Hollywood Women’s Political Committee, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, Show Coalition and People for the American Way also are becoming involved.

After this campaign, they plan to help other filmmakers get their projects aired, particularly those sharing similar experiences.

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