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PBS supports Ken Burns against Latinos’ complaints
Submitted by jonathan on Mon, 2007-05-07 08:34
by ELIZABETH JENSEN
Public broadcasting executives are defending the right of the filmmaker Ken Burns to tell the history of World War II as he sees fit, in the face of escalating complaints and veiled threats of a boycott from Latinos who say his coming PBS documentary “The War” slights Hispanics’ contributions to the war effort.
At what participants described as an emotional meeting on Thursday in Washington, members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus asked corporate sponsors of the 14 ½-hour film — General Motors, Anheuser-Busch and Bank of America — for help in putting pressure on Mr. Burns to re-edit the film, which has been finished, to add stories of Latino contributions to the war effort.
Representative Joe Baca, the California Democrat who is chairman of the caucus, said in an interview yesterday, “We will not settle for separate but equal treatment in this documentary.” He said caucus members had told the sponsors, “We just hate to see what happened with national boycotts in the past.”
Noting that the film would not be shown until September, Mr. Baca said: “What happens between now and then will determine. If we don’t see anything, it could be a reaction.”
While many Latino groups have been active in asking for changes to the film, which Mr. Baca said he had not seen, the participation of members of Congress has raised some concerns among public broadcasters worried about improper federal interference in content. Yesterday the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the entity that administers federal funds for public broadcasting and is charged with insulating stations and programmers from outside pressure, released a statement signed by the heads of PBS, National Public Radio, the Association of Public Television Stations and the corporation. It reminded Congress of the editorial independence that was guaranteed in the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967.
Mr. Baca countered that “the law does not prohibit Ken Burns from re-editing” his film, adding that the filmmaker should “get off of his own personal ego and say, ‘I will do it.’ ” He added, “All we are asking for is an accurate reflection of history.”
Patricia DeStacy Harrison, the corporation’s president and chief executive, who attended the meeting, said: “No one is arguing with the premise that the story must be told. But from C.P.B.’s standpoint, we have to honor the firewall.” Asked about veiled boycott threats, she said, “I think the way it was expressed was that, as individuals and as a group, they are going to have a long memory.”
The film, which chronicles the war through the experiences of residents of four United States communities, was not intended to be a comprehensive history, Mr. Burns said. He called it “a sort of epic poem and not a textbook.”
When complaints were first raised, Mr. Burns offered to include Latino stories, produced by his team and a Latino filmmaker, Hector Galán, in supplemental material that will follow the broadcast of the film. The material, which is in production, will also be included in the official DVD and reruns. Latino groups at first praised the plan but then rejected it.
In an e-mail statement, a General Motors spokeswoman, Ryndee Carney, said, in part, that the company recognized “the sensitivity and seriousness of the concerns expressed by the Hispanic community to Mr. Burns and PBS,” adding that “we strongly encourage all parties to continue discussions.”
Mr. Burns, who was not at the meeting, said he found it painful that the controversy was erupting over a film in which he explores an episode of American history that brought citizens together. He said he had received support from historians who have seen the film.
Mr. Burns said there was no chance that the film would be re-edited. “It would be destructive, like trying to graft an arm onto your child,” he said. “It would destroy the film.”article originally published at http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/05/arts/television/05pbs.html?ref=arts.