February 02, 2005

Censoring Buster: Not on this station! 

I don't like to brag, but we have a great Program Director in David Thiel here at WILL-TV. I'll let his recent email speak for itself:
As you may have heard from internal discussions and/or national press, there has been a minor controversy over one of the episodes of the Postcards from Buster series which airs weekdays at 3:00 pm on WILL-TV. The episode in question, "Sugartime," regards maple sugaring in Vermont, but has been singled out because the two featured families include same-sex parents. (Same-sex civil unions are recognized in Vermont.) PBS had initially scheduled the episode to air today, then postponed it to March 23 in order to take a closer look at it. Upon further reflection, they concluded that this was a subject best left to parents to introduce to their children at a time of their choosing, and removed it from the national schedule. That same day, the incoming Secretary of Education sent a letter to PBS President Pat Mitchell that harshly criticized the episode. (Buster receives some of its funding from the Department of Education's Ready-to-Learn program.) PBS maintains that the decision was made prior to the receipt of the letter, and as I know that discussion had already been going on for a week or two, I'm willing to take them at their word. Subsequently, WGBH offered the episode to any public TV station wishing to air it. So far, at least 23 stations have scheduled it to air sometimes over the next two months. Having screened "Sugartime," I believe that its content is entirely appropriate within the context of the Postcards from Buster series. The original Ready-to-Learn request for proposals included the desire for a series that would "appeal to all of America's children by providing them with content and or characters with which they can identify. Diversity will be incorporated into the fabric of the series to help children understand and respect differences and learn to live in a multicultural society. The series will avoid stereotypical images of all kinds and show modern multi-ethnic/lingual/cultural families and children." Other episodes have included families from a variety of cultural and religious backgrounds, as well as divorced parents, single parents and children who live with grandparents. There is no discussion of sexuality, civil unions or similar content within the episode. There is one reference to a "partner," and another to a "stepmom." The focus, as with every Buster episode, is on the kids, and most of the show is about maple sugar. Whatever one may feel about the subjects of homosexuality or civil unions, the reality is that there are many children growing up in such a household, and many more who will work or play alongside such kids. I have scheduled the episode to air March 23 at 3:00 pm (the second date assigned to it by PBS). Several other stations, including WNET in New York, have also selected that date. My hope is to simply air it as originally intended, as just another episode of the series, without a lot of fuss. So far, we've received about a half dozen viewer comments regarding the national press, and all have urged us to air the program. However, it's possible that we may hear from others once word gets out about our airdate. (Kirby Pringle from the News-Gazette talked to me this afternoon.) If anyone asks, feel free to tell them the airdate, and to use portions of this e-mail to form your response. Questions about "Sugartime" can be directed to Anita or myself. KQED's president, Jeff Clarke, said the following in an interview regarding his station's decision to air the episode: "KQED's mission is to provide programs and services that reflect a respect for and understanding of our world and its inhabitants without exception." (Emphasis mine.) That's a philosophy that I can feel good about. David Thiel Program Director / WILL-TV

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