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Snubbed PBS film gets private viewing
Producers who say their film was “spiked” by the nation’s public broadcasting system for political reasons are determined to show the production privately.
“Islam vs. Islamists,” which documents moderate American Muslims who are threatened by their more radical brethren, will be shown today to journalists at a theater blocks from the White House. A screening for lawmakers is also scheduled.
“This documentary highlights the struggles within the Muslim community to debate the conflict between the spiritual path of Islam and the political path. If America does not see this film, we can’t begin the first steps toward the most important ideological debate of the 21st century,” said Dr. M. Zuhdi Jasser, chairman of the Arizona-based American Islamic Forum for Democracy, who is featured in the film.
The 52-minute documentary was produced by a team that included conservative columnist and Center for Security Policy founder Frank Gaffney Jr., with $675,000 in funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB). It was intended to be shown on “America at the Crossroads,” a Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) series that aired last week, depicting a post-September 11 nation.
CPB decision-makers, however, said the film was unfinished and did not uphold standards for fairness, ultimately delaying, but not canceling, its broadcast. The producers — Mr. Gaffney, Martyn Burke and Alex Alexiev — cried foul, countering that their taxpayer-funded documentary was shelved in an “ideological vendetta.”
But the CPB door is still open, apparently.
“Our sole objective is seeing Mr. Gaffney’s film on public television,” said CPB spokesman Michael Levy yesterday.
But the trio remains suspicious and are critical of a film that appeared Wednesday during the weeklong series. “The Muslim Americans” examined reactions among Muslims who have faced discrimination, racial profiling at airports and FBI scrutiny of their communities. The film was produced in conjunction with PBS’ “The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer” and featured analysis by Ray Suarez, Judy Woodruff and Robert MacNeil.
Mr. Alexiev yesterday called the production “a puff piece for Islam” that overlooks “homegrown Islamic extremism in the U.S.” He also accused CPB of giving producers a “sweetheart deal” in an essay, “PBS in Islamist Wonderland,” published by Frontpagemag.com.
In the meantime, the proverbial show must go on.
Mr. Gaffney and his team have booked the 240-seat Burke Theater in the U.S. Navy Memorial on Pennsylvania Avenue in the District for their invitation-only screening, billing it as: “The film PBS doesn’t want you to see” and “a documentary about the struggle for the future of Islam — and the Free World.” The film will be followed by a discussion featuring the three filmmakers, Dr. Jasser and others.
There has been a “healthy” national response from journalists interested in seeing the film, said a spokeswoman from Arlington-based political public-relations firm Creative Research Concepts, which is handling the logistics.
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