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Children’s Show Faces PBS Inquiry

Times Staff Writer

The head of PBS has ordered an internal review of the children’s show “Postcards From Buster” after Education Secretary Margaret Spellings and other critics attacked an episode that featured real-life lesbian mothers.

Pat Mitchell, president and chief executive of the Public Broadcasting Service, said in an interview Thursday that she had asked an internal team to analyze events leading up to the controversial “Buster” episode. The team will outline the chronology and seek input from the series’ producers at Boston public television station WGBH, Mitchell said.

For the record:
12:00 AM, Feb. 12, 2005 For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday February 12, 2005 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 3 inches; 118 words Type of Material: Correction
PBS inquiry -- An article in Friday’s A section about a PBS internal review of the children’s show “Postcards From Buster” mischaracterized the chronology of PBS’ decision to drop an episode that featured real-life lesbian mothers. The article stated that the decision was made last month, after Education Secretary Margaret Spellings lodged a complaint. PBS officials said that the decision was made earlier on the same day Spellings sent a letter asking that public money spent on the episode be returned if the episode ran, and that the decision was made independently and not because of pressure from Spellings. Some PBS stations have opted to air the episode, “Sugartime,” through distribution by WGBH-TV in Boston, which produced it.

PBS is taking the steps because it “wants to avoid confusion and controversy,” she told the Los Angeles Times. Mitchell also left open the possibility of an external review of “Buster” if the team were to find that further study was needed.

“Buster” features an animated rabbit that travels the world, learning about various people and cultures. In the criticized episode, the title character travels to a farm in Vermont to study how maple sugar is made. Among those encountered are two lesbian couples, although they are never identified as such on-screen.

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Spellings complained to Mitchell in a letter last month that the federal government, which provides subsidies that help support “Buster,” did not intend for the money to be used “to introduce this kind of subject matter to children.”

After Spellings lodged her complaint, PBS decided not to distribute the episode to all of its 349 stations, but some program directors plan to air it anyway. WGBH has said it will run the show March 23. KCET, which broadcasts in Los Angeles, Ventura, Riverside and San Bernardino counties, aired the episode Tuesday.

Separately, PBS announced that next week it would convene an independent panel of journalists and academics to review its editorial standards. Sources said the review was conducted periodically and focused on journalistic and other nonfiction programming. The inquiry does not appear to be related to children’s programming or the “Buster” controversy.

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Times staff writer Scott Collins contributed to this report.


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