VP Leaves PBS after Providing Airtime to Genocide Deniers

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VP Leaves PBS after Providing

Airtime to Genocide Deniers



By Harut Sassounian

Publisher, The California Courier

June 22, 2006


The New York Times reported on June 14 that Jacoba Atlas, the Senior Vice President of Programming at PBS (Public Broadcasting Service), would be leaving her post at the end of this month. She told the newspaper that she “did not know what she would do next.”

Her departure should not come as a surprise to those who have been following the recent controversial developments at PBS. As Senior Vice President of Programming, Ms. Atlas was the PBS executive that arranged the airing of a debate on the Armenian Genocide with the participation of two genocide denialists after the broadcast of Andrew Goldberg’s documentary on the Armenian Genocide on April 17.

By doing so, Ms. Atlas not only raised questions about the veracity of the Armenian Genocide, but also caused serious harm to PBS itself by antagonizing a large number of its viewers and supporters as well as many members of Congress who provide a major portion of its budget.

Ms. Atlas completely mishandled this highly controversial situation. When more than 30,000 viewers sent e-mails and signed a petition asking her not to provide a national platform to genocide deniers, she ignored them. When a major Armenian-American organization -- the ANCA – wrote her asking for a meeting in order to discuss this serious matter, she turned down its request. When 30 members of Congress sent a joint letter expressing their strong objection to the airing of the panel discussion, she dismissed their concerns, knowing full well that the Congress could cut the millions of dollars it provides in federal funding to PBS every year. She also ignored the dozens of articles on this nationwide controversy that appeared in the Washington Post, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and many other publications.

All attempts to explain to Ms. Atlas that it was wrong to put genocide denialists on the air in order "to balance" a documentary on the Armenian Genocide, fell on deaf ears. Goldberg’s documentary did not need any balancing, as it already included comments by notorious denialists Yusuf Halacoglu and Gunduz Aktan. Furthermore, as the PBS Ombudsman revealed in a lengthy report, "top PBS officials," most probably including Ms. Atlas, were involved in editing and revising the contents of the documentary and “requesting script revisions.”

If Ms. Atlas was truly interested in further exploring the issue of the denial of the Armenian Genocide by the Turkish government, all she had to do was to convene a panel of experts who could have intelligently explained why and how mass murderers engage in the denial and cover up of crimes against humanity!

Finally, in early March, out of exasperation, this writer called for the dismissal of Ms. Atlas from PBS after she insulted the victims of the Armenian Genocide by stating that the Armenian and Jewish genocides were "not analogous." She made that offensive comment in response to persistent questions on whether she would also organize a debate on the Holocaust that would include Neo-Nazis or Holocaust revisionists to be aired after the broadcast of a documentary on the Holocaust!

According to reliable PBS sources, Ms. Atlas was let go after top management at PBS concluded that she mishandled the panel discussion and the resulting controversy, alienating many longtime PBS viewers and supporters.

To make matters worse, the House Appropriations Committee voted last week to substantially cut federal funding for Public Broadcasting for 2007 and none at all for 2009. Even though the Committee took this action mostly due to partisan politics, nevertheless, it was not helpful to PBS that one of its top executives had antagonized more than 30 members of Congress at a time when PBS is in desperate need of every single congressional vote and every dollar of revenue.

Following the departure of Ms. Atlas, Armenian-American community leaders should meet with Paula A. Kerger, the newly installed president of PBS, and patch up their differences. PBS provides a valuable service to the community at large and deserves to be fully supported. The poor judgments of a former executive should not leave a lasting rift between the Armenian-American community and public broadcasting. After all, most PBS viewers ended up not seeing the panel discussion that Ms. Atlas had gone out of her way to put together. The programming directors of most PBS stations nationwide, and particularly those in the largest cities, felt that the panel was unnecessary and did not add anything to the documentary!

After relations with PBS are patched up, the Armenian-American community should ask the Congressional Caucus on Armenian Issues -- more than 150 House members -- as well as the U.S. Senate, to reinstate the budget for public broadcasting when the proposed bill involving this issue reaches the House and Senate floors.


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