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Boycott PBS Stations...   9/02/2006

Boycott PBS Stations that Air "Balancing" Panel on Genocide

By Harut Sassounian
Publisher, The California Courier

PBS is planning to air immediately after the April 17 broadcast of Andrew Goldberg’s "The Armenian Genocide" documentary, a 25-minute long panel discussion that includes two genocide deniers, Asbarez reported last week.

Goldberg told this writer that he did not agree with the PBS decision to hold a panel discussion on the Armenian Genocide. "I don't believe such a panel is necessary. I had absolutely nothing to do with it," he said.

Prof. Fatma Muge Gocek, a Turkish American scholar who opposes the Turkish government’s denials of the Armenian Genocide, explained to this writer why she refused to be on the panel: "I felt that I had said what I wanted to say in the documentary and I did not understand what additional discussion was going to contribute to it, other than give Justin McCarthy and Omer Turan a chance to articulate the Turkish state view. I see this as PBS politicizing the issue and giving in to Turkish State pressure. It sets a bad precedent and it is bound to be hailed as a victory by the Turkish State and their nationalist Diaspora. I would rather not have the documentary aired at all under such conditions."

The panel discussion, pre-taped by PBS on Feb. 6, included Prof. Peter Balakian (Colgate Univ., NY), Prof. Taner Akcam (Univ. of Minnesota), Prof. Justin McCarthy (Univ. of Louisville), and Prof. Omer Turan (Middle East Technical Univ., Ankara). The moderator was Scott Simon of NPR (National Public Radio). Balakian is the author of "The Burning Tigris" and "Black Dog of Fate." Akcam is a Turkish scholar who is a staunch defender of the facts of the Armenian Genocide. McCarthy and Turan are genocide deniers.

In a lengthy letter dated Nov. 28, 2005, Balakian wrote to David Davis, the Vice President of National TV Production at PBS, explaining why he strongly objected to the post-documentary panel discussion. Saying, "this would be a serious mistake for both intellectual and ethical reasons," Balakian made the following arguments:

"First, it seems to me that there is no need for it. My understanding is that post-show discussions are tagged on to documentaries that lack balance. The Armenian Genocide documentary is well-balanced, and is ground-breaking because there are more than a half-dozen Turkish voices in the film -- both Turkish scholars discussing the Armenian Genocide and some Turkish voices denying it. If this were not the case, I could see that there might be a reason to follow it with a discussion about Turkish perspectives, but here, at last, we have an extraordinary number of Turkish voices already incorporated.

"Second, from a scholarly perspective, I think it’s important for PBS to understand that the Armenian Genocide is not a controversial issue. What happened to the Armenians in the last days of the Ottoman Empire is genocide – this is the mainstream consensus worldwide….

"Third, I believe it is ethically wrong to privilege deniers by giving their position equal weight. This is the conclusion the New York Times, Boston Globe, Chronicle of Higher Education and other media have come to….

"Fourth, with all due respect to the pressures on PBS, this is still the United States of America – our country and culture -- and our own Public Broadcasting System. There is no reason why fear of protests by a foreign government should inform our culture’s programming. In the struggle for truth in the face of coercion and cover-up, it is vitally important for distinguished institutions, particularly public ones, to hold their ground in the face of Turkish government intimidation. By giving Turkey additional airtime following a fair documentary on the Armenian Genocide, PBS in effect would be supporting Turkey’s well-funded denialist campaign."

I agree with all of Prof. Balakian’s well-reasoned arguments. Even though I am quite confident that Balakian and Akcam could easily demolish McCarthy’s and Turan’s baseless conjectures, I find it offensive that PBS is providing to genocide revisionists a platform from which they can spew their denialist venom. As Prof. Gocek suggested earlier, this panel discussion would create an unwelcome precedent for all future programs on the Armenian Genocide.

Furthermore, the holding of such a panel is an insult to both the victims as well as the survivors of the Armenian Genocide. Since PBS executives would never think of including neo-Nazis in a panel discussion following the airing of a Holocaust documentary, why would they do it in the case of an Armenian Genocide documentary?

As I had stated in an earlier review, Goldberg’s documentary is already excessively fair and balanced. It includes remarks by several Turkish revisionists. There is no need to further balance it by adding more denialists in a panel after the show.

I suggest that all those who disagree with the PBS decision to provide a platform to genocide revisionists take the following actions:

1. Send an e-mail to Jacoba Atlas, Senior Vice President of PBS programming, asking her to cancel the airing of the panel discussion. Her e-mail address is:;

2. Contact your local PBS station and urge the programming director not approve the airing of the panel discussion (each station, independently of PBS, decides whether or not to air this optional panel discussion);

3. Advise your station manager that if he goes ahead with the airing of the panel discussion, you would neither watch nor financially support the station. Furthermore, you would urge the station’s corporate and foundation sponsors to cease their support;

4. If no satisfactory action is taken by PBS, then contact your Congressional representative, asking that Congress cut back the funding to PBS because of its insensitivity to viewers’ concerns;

5. If the panel discussion is aired, whenever PBS broadcasts a Turkey-related documentary in the future, demand that a panel discussion be held after each show to balance the Turkish propaganda.

All those who care about upholding the truth should not allow PBS to question the veracity of the Armenian Genocide under pressure from the Turkish government and its hired guns.


© 2010 - La Lettre de l'ADL
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