A PBS Documentary Makes Its Case for the Armenian Genocide, With or Without a Debate
By ALESSANDRA STANLEY
Published: April 17, 2006
It is impossible to debate a subject like genocide without giving offense. PBS is supposed to give offense responsibly.Jen
And that was the idea behind a panel discussion that PBS planned to show after tonight's broadcast of "The Armenian Genocide," a documentary about the extermination of more than one million Armenians by the Turkish Ottoman Empire during World War I.
The powerful hourlong film will be shown on most of the 348 PBS affiliate stations. But nearly a third of those stations decided to cancel the follow-up discussion after an intense lobbying campaign by Armenian groups and some members of Congress.
The protesters complained that the panel of four experts, moderated by Scott Simon, host of "Weekend Edition Saturday" on NPR, included two scholars who defend the Turkish government's claim that a genocide never took place. The outrage over their inclusion was an indication of how passionately Armenians feel about the issue; they have battled for decades to draw attention to the genocide.
But the fact that so many stations caved is a measure of something else: PBS's growing vulnerability to pressure and, perhaps accordingly, the erosion of viewers' trust in public television.
The camera lends legitimacy, but as Senator Joseph R. McCarthy's performance on Edward R. Murrow's "See It Now" famously showed, it also can undermine credibility. Panel discussions in particular give people with outlandish views a hearing — and also an opportunity to expose the flaws in their arguments.
That is certainly the case with the discussion program "Armenian Genocide: Exploring the Issues." It turns out that there is only one articulate voice arguing that Armenians died not in a genocide but in a civil war between Christians and Muslims — that of Justin A. McCarthy, a history professor at the University of Louisville. His Turkish counterpart, Omer Turan, an associate professor at the Middle East Technical University in Ankara, tries ardently to back him up, but his English is not good enough to make a dent. And the two other experts, Peter Balakian, a humanities professor at Colgate University, and Taner Akcam, a visiting professor of history at the University of Minnesota and a well-known defender of human rights in Turkey, lucidly pick Mr. McCarthy's points apart.
I can't believe that PBS would air a followup to a film on the Armenian Genocide by letting half of a "panel" be folks who argued that it never happened. Oh, wait, I CAN believe it. PS--the Turks also deny the Greek genocides as well, a topic which I have heard much of in my local Greek 'hood.
Holocaust Denial is the provence of cranks. This is the state policy of Turkey. It needs to be confronted.
Civil War? With unarmed Armenians against the Ottoman Army? I'd LOVE to hear that debated. The Turks denied this happen, like they denied the Kurds were a seperate people for the better part of a century.
posted by Steve @ 5:36:00 PM