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A Show With a Viewpoint Needs No Label

Schechter is executive producer of "South Africa Now."

“South Africa Now” has a new scarlet letter, the distinction of becoming the first TV show in America to be labeled.

KCET in Los Angeles, in a welcome decision to continue carrying our program, has added an unexpected twist: the decision that we will now become the only program on the public-TV airwaves to be labeled as a “point of view” program.

The reason: Try as we have, we seem unable to meet the station’s unique “standards for fairness and balance in news programming.” (No other PBS station in the nation has asserted the same claim.) Happily, KCET now acknowledges that “South Africa Now” should be seen.

When asked what our point of view is, we are pleased that the station no longer contends that we are biased propagandists of the red persuasion. That particular label was stuck on us by the self-appointed Committee on Media Integrity, the fringe group that is now seeking to deny KCET’s license and get some more attention for themselves in the process. (They are upset that the station is no longer talking to them because of the “South Africa Now” controversy. KCET says that the Committee on Media Integrity, led by David Horowitz, has adequately harangued everyone at KCET, from the chairman to the janitor. Horowitz says he was the first to urge KCET to label us. Maybe he’ll claim another “victory.”)

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So KCET no longer says we are serving a foreign point of view. They now say that we serve our own: “the point of view of Globalvision, the producers.”

As a result, “South Africa Now” will carry a station disclaimer, a warning to the uninitiated, the naive, the innocent, that they are watching a “point of view” show.

Who knows, maybe this special treatment will attract some new viewers intrigued about what dangerous fare lurks behind the label.

Kidding aside, a label is a stigma, and for journalists this stigma is a smear.

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What is this “point of view” that has to be singled out this way at 9 on Sunday mornings? What is the station disclaiming?

That we consistently show opponents of apartheid in South Africa?

That we carry hard-hitting reports that expose apartheid’s supporters there and here?

That we critique network news coverage that is distorted and incomplete?

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Even we are not sure what our point of view is--because the movements and governments we cover represent so many points of view. Even the African National Congress has different forces and factions within it. So does the government.

But assume for a moment that the journalistic metal detectors at KCET do sound the alarm when we go on the air. Are we the only program on PBS or TV in general with a perspective?

Does William Buckley have a point of view? Does Julia Child? Does “Wall Street Week”? Does “The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour”? Should they be labeled too? No one is free of the taint or unworthy of the tag. Open-minded is not empty-minded.

Some of our friends in Los Angeles say that we should admit to the charge and say that most American TV shows reflect an American cultural point of view, while we reflect an African one. But that is too simplistic.

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The producers are not Africans. But there is no one African point of view either.

The programmers at KCET have had some problems with our approach in the past. They have that right, and we think they are sincere. They have expressed some valid concerns, and we are talking to each other.

We hope that they will understand why we are concerned about labeling in the same way that musicians resent the labeling of their records or filmmakers are uneasy about how the wrong label or rating can affect their box-office appeal.

Labeling has an odor of censorship about it. It doesn’t smell or feel right.

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That’s our point of view.


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