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RADAR ALERT:
PBS Whitewashes Flawed Documentary

After a month-long review, the Public Broadcasting Service has disappointed thousands of viewers and given its stamp of approval to Breaking the Silence: Children's Stories.

According to the PBS statement, “The producers approached the topic with the open mindedness and commitment to fairness that we require of our journalists. Their research was extensive and supports the conclusions drawn in the program.” The entire PBS statement is shown at the end of this Alert.

PBS plans to produce a follow-up documentary on child custody, family courts, and parental alienation syndrome, to be aired in Spring 2006. PBS does not indicate that the second program will highlight the concerns or perspectives of fathers; indeed, the PBS statement does not even include the word, “father.”

Of greater concern is the PBS statement that says, “Additionally, the documentary's ‘first-person story telling approach’ did not allow the depth of the producers' research to be as evident to the viewer as it could have been.” [emphasis added]. RADAR is concerned that in Breaking the Silence Part II, PBS will simply present biased experts and one-sided research that will reinforce the propaganda-like conclusions contained in Breaking the Silence Part I.

The PBS statement made no concession to Ken Bode, ombudsman for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, who wrote on Monday, “It was precisely the lack of balance and fairness that caused so many viewers to contact PBS and CPB ... Lasseur now says that [lack of balance] was intentional. Simply put, that amounts to a plea of guilty to violating the fairness and balance standards of PBS.” [http://www.cpb.org/ombudsmen/051219bode.html]

The PBS statement also ignored the criticisms by PBS' own ombudsman, Michael Getler, who wrote on December 2 that the program comes across “as a one-sided, advocacy program” and “there was no recognition of opposing views.” [http://www.pbs.org/ombudsman/2005/12/introduction_and_breaking_the_silence.html]

On December 12, RADAR sent a letter to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting calling for an Inspector General investigation of the program. The letter reiterated RADAR's demands that PBS completely retract Breaking the Silence, and that PBS commission a follow-up documentary that highlights the plight of children endangered by a court system that awards custody to fathers only 15% of the time. [http://www.mediaradar.org/docs/RADAR_letterToCPB_InspectorGeneral.pdf]

A recent column by David Usher reveals how Breaking the Silence is part of a broader campaign to influence public policy that would make it far more difficult for divorcing fathers to gain shared parenting rights of their children. [http://www.therealitycheck.org/GuestColumnist/dusher121905.htm]

RADAR will analyze the situation over the upcoming holidays and issue our next Alert on January 2, 2006.


PBS Programming Statement on BREAKING THE SILENCE: CHILDREN'S STORIES

BREAKING THE SILENCE: CHILDREN'S STORIES chronicles the impact of domestic violence on children and the recurring failings of family courts across the country to protect them from their abusers. In stark and often poignant interviews, children and battered mothers tell their stories of abuse at home and continued trauma within the courts. The producers approached the topic with the open mindedness and commitment to fairness that we require of our journalists. Their research was extensive and supports the conclusions drawn in the program. Funding from the Mary Kay Ash Charitable Foundation met PBS's underwriting guidelines; the Foundation had no editorial influence on program content.

However, the program would have benefited from more in-depth treatment of the complex issues surrounding child custody and the role of family courts and most specifically the provocative topic of Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS). Additionally, the documentary's "first-person story telling approach" did not allow the depth of the producers' research to be as evident to the viewer as it could have been.

PBS has received a substantial body of analysis and documentation from both supporters of the documentary and its critics.

It is clear to us that this complex and important issue would benefit from further examination. To that end, PBS will commission an hour-long documentary for that purpose. Plans call for the documentary to be produced and broadcast in Spring 2006. We expect that the hour-long treatment of the subject will allow ample opportunity for doctors, psychologists, judges, parent advocates and victims of abuse to have their perspectives shared, challenged and debated.


Date of RADAR Release: December 20, 2005

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R.A.D.A.R. – Respecting Accuracy in Domestic Abuse Reporting – is a non-profit, non-partisan organization of men and women working to improve the effectiveness of our nation's approach to solving domestic violence. http://www.mediaradar.org