MPB: Don’t Treat Us Like Children | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

MPB: Don’t Treat Us Like Children

Once again, Mississippi Public Broadcasting—which receives public dollars—has initiated a form of censorship to keep certain controversial content away from a Mississippi audience. Anna Wolfe reports this issue (see page 12) that a PBS "Point of View" series documentary called "After Tiller" was aired around the country Sept. 1, but MPB Executive Director Ronnie Agnew blocked it in our state. The documentary displayed the work and lives of the only four doctors openly performing abortions after the third trimester in the United States.

Named after abortion provider Dr. George Tiller, who was killed by an anti-abortion activist while in church in 2009, the film is undeniably contentious—especially in a state that continually works to limit the accessibility of abortion. Agnew attributes his decision to pull the programming to the controversial nature of the film.

This censorship is emblematic of a society afraid of discussion of difficult issues. "After Tiller," which presents how complicated late-term abortion is, could have created thought and dialogue here on both sides of the debate on a topic that even many pro-abortion rights advocates don't agree on.

The point shouldn't be whether we agree or disagree with the content. The laws in Mississippi already prohibit abortions after the third trimester, and there isn't a serious push to change that; we're grappling with having any access to abortion whatsoever in the state.

We're not convinced that "After Tiller" would change the minds of anyone on the issue of abortion. The documentary is not "left-wing propaganda" as some PBS programming has been called. It is a film that embraces human stories and evokes empathy on the part of the viewer. Women here still face situations like the ones presented in "After Tiller." With stories seldom told, the doctors invite the viewer into very emotional and personal experiences surrounding pregnancy and reproductive choices.

Mississippians deserve access to information, just as residents of other states do. We need to be informed, and we don't need paternalistic censorship of content that can help us understand difficult issues. Those in power in Mississippi—overwhelmingly men—already control most discussion of reproductive health on their terms, wasting time and money in the Legislature trying to pass restrictions on legal abortion and install loopholes to effectively ban the constitutional procedure in the state.

Agnew justified the cancellation by saying the film is available online. But that is a cop-out for public stations such as MPB. To block discussion about a controversial but legal procedure in our country is irresponsible and shows a certain contempt for MPB's audience, our intelligence and our ability to handle complex content.

Mississippians—and all adults—deserve the opportunity to have difficult debates and hear complicated, humanized stories without public censorship. And we sure don't need a daddy telling us what we can't see. MPB needs to stop treating Mississippians like children.

Comments

forrest 4 years, 2 months ago

55% of this state opposed the "personhood" amendment.
53% of Mississippians oppose abortion.

To say that MPB practiced "censorship" by refusing to air a program that the majority of their viewers do not agree with is wrong and misguided. Sure, it makes the pro-choice side sound like they are being forced out of the discussion, but that is not the case. If people want to view the film, they can. MPB's decision to air programming that they felt more people would want to watch was correct and it does nothing to stop the pro-choice minority from having their voices heard.

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Turtleread 4 years, 2 months ago

I beg to differ. MPB's mission is to bring the Arts, Science, and public discussion of public topics of the day into our lives in an intelligent and thoughtful manner. The audience may "opt out" of the program by changing channels or by hitting the "off" button. It is NOT the Executive Director's role to screen our programming.

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forrest 4 years, 2 months ago

Actually, choosing what airs on the network is exactly his role. You dislike his choice, that's ok, but it's still his choice.

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multiculturegirl37 4 years, 2 months ago

You realize you just wrote that the majority of people in the state voted to keep abortion legal yet we shouldn't air a documentary about abortion? That doesn't make any sense. I also want to see the reference for your poll because every detailed poll has shown people do not want Mississippi to be with out abortion access. They may be for restriction but they aren't for elimination.

Also if the only purpose of public television, which is informative not purely entertaining, is to coddle the majority then I guess we don't have to do anymore of those pesky programs about the blacks, Hispanics, indigenous people, or gays huh? Shall we stop playing programs about evolution because there's a big ole bunch of people in Mississippi that don't believe in it or should we keep airing science programming? Not everything will cater to everybody but it will INFORM the public about issues outside what they may be comfortable with or usually discuss. That's the point of the series!

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sarahmina 4 years, 2 months ago

Thank you. Your point was right on!

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donnaladd 4 years, 2 months ago

I can't help but wonder if this means that Mr. Agnew will also not allow people to come on MPB radio and television to talk about opposition to late-term abortion. Feels like he could have an equal-time problem on his hands if he's not careful.

This is really disappointing. I listened to "Think Radio" for a minute this morning, which I seldom do any more, and realized why I stopped a while back: the host asked one yes-or-no question after another, squelching any real dialogue and stilting the answers.

They can, and need, to be better than this. I don't expect better out of local TV stations, but I do out of public broadcasting. Agnew's job should not be to reinforce stereotypes about information, but to treat us as if we're intelligent enough to make our own decisions. It's sure not "think radio" otherwise. It's dumbed-down radio. With due respect.

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alexnever 4 years, 2 months ago

Thank you JFP for publicly addressing this issue. The entire tone of the decision made by Mr. Agnew was condescending, and reinforces stereotypes of MS in negative way. Basically, he is saying Mississippians don't have the good sense to turn the channel when something they have no interest in watching comes on. And that Mississippians just cannot handle information such as this, unlike the rest of the nation, as this POV episode was broadcast (almost) nationwide. We are just too delicate/stupid/uncaring, or whatever...I emailed my displeasure to MPB and was told to view it online...the whole "you can watch it online if you wish" statement is not valid, especially in MS...this is America's third world, internet access is not as available as Mr. Agnew may think; it may be available in an area, but when wages here are just above slave wages, especially in rural areas, that internet access is out of reach for many...this decision is symptomatic of the reasons we continue to fight the backwards, third-world stigma the rest of the country, the world, associates with Mississippi...

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multiculturegirl37 4 years, 2 months ago

They also have re-framed the it was one man's decision and now are saying "we made the choice". That is what Sarah Roberts co-chair of Mississippi NOW's Young Feminists and two other members were told today when they went to the station to deliver the petition. Along with them repackaging the information from http://www.pbs.org/ombudsman/and-afte...">Michael Getler's statement in a misleading way. Making it seem like several other states didn't show the movie AND that the low viewing percentage is purely due to people's viewing choices not that it could have been influenced by programmers moving it to 3am like they did in Alabama or the middle of the day on a workday on a secondary station. I will be posting the video of their meeting later today.

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Turtleread 4 years, 2 months ago

While I do recognize that when a party with strong opinions on the subject has control of the House, Senate, Lt. Governor's Office, and Governor's Office, no state employee's job is safe and neither can their agency operate independently, I think Mr. Agnew and his self-censorship and that of his agency and viewing habits of the public should part ways. It is obvious to me that Mr. Agnew's lack of courage and leadership does not qualify him to be the head of a news gathering organization interested in the integrity of their product.

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