Nearly two dozen protesters, upset about what they perceive as censorship by PBS, picketed outside the Loew’s Santa Monica Beach Hotel yesterday, where the public TV service was kicking off the Television Critics Assn. tour.

Bearing signs that read “Petroleum Broadcasting System” and “How Public is Public TV,” documentary filmmakers, actors and media activists were there to draw attention to PBS’ decision not to air two documentaries: Oscar-winner “Deadly Deception: General Electric, Nuclear Weapons and Our Environment” and “Building Bombs,” an Oscar nominee. The protesters claim the films were rejected because of their political content.

The group is part of the Coalition vs. PBS Censorship, formed last fall to challenge PBS’ decision not to air controversial docus. Demonstration was fueled by a full-page coalition ad in Daily Variety, endorsed by about 70 entertainment industry veterans, including David Geffen, Mike Medavoy and Oliver Stone.

“This is the first concerted effort by people who feel that political documentaries have been banned from PBS,” said Mark Mori, a documentarian and the coalition’s leader, who organized the demonstration. “I think that PBS has cowered in the face of (right wing pressure). We’re here to try to get PBS to live up to its congressional mandate, which is to air diverse and innovative programming that the commercial networks won’t air.”

Jennifer Lawson, PBS’ exec VP for national programming and promotion services , denied pressure from corporations and the federal government–which provide a third of the network’s funding — had any bearing on programming.

“Just because a film wins an Academy Award doesn’t mean it’s appropriate for public television,” Lawson said.

“We have standards for our programs and we apply these across the board on all of our programming decisions. …”

Lawson added that PBS wrote several coalition members and the Intl. Documentary Assn. offering to discuss the issue. While the IDA is still considering its reply, Mori said he was never contacted.

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