Public Television: Politics and the Battle Over Documentary Film

Public Television: Politics and the Battle Over Documentary Film



Public television's original mandate requires the system to address issues of controversy and facilitate the inclusion of voices and perspectives that lie outside the established consensus. But attempts to include these voices reveal to system riddled with conflicting obligations and agendas. Public Televisionlooks at who in the world of public television is powerful, who is weak, and who cares.

Through detailed chronologies, B. J. Bullert traces how independently produced documentaries pushed the limits of public television between 1985 and 1993. She interviews the key players-film makers, programmers, journalists, and representatives of interest groups- to illuminate how together they sought to frame and constrain viewers’ perceptions of provocative works. Their stories are set against the backdrop of a larger story about the relationship between federal funding for the arts and public broadcasting and the promise of a democratic society. Bullert brings to light the subtle forces and interests that effectively control the style and content of documentaries that have been broadcast with the PBS logo.

When film makers brought uncommon realities to the public television airwaves, a complex collective response from station programmers, interest groups, journalists, and viewers ensued. Public Television charts the communication process through which visions of reality deemed threatening to some are packaged to make them more palatable for public television viewers. All of the documentaries examined-on topics including the nuclear arms industry, the Palestinian/Israeli conflict, gay rights, and corporate greed in the era of downsizing-eventually made their way onto public television, most of them on the national PBS schedule. The stories of their journeys, and the way the programs were ultimately framed by the broadcasters and then by the press, show how the collective effort of programmers, producers, interest groups, and journalist tell the public what to think about and how to think about it



Publication Date



Rutgers University Press

Public Television: Politics and the Battle Over Documentary Film

Catalog Record