At least two public television networks opted not to air this week the POV documentary After Tiller, which profiles four late-term abortion providers and prompted a campaign among anti-abortion organizations.
POV’s plans to air the film’s national broadcast premiere at 10 p.m. Sept. 1 spurred an Aug. 27 online statement from Judie Brown, president of the American Life League, who called the documentary “nothing short of pure propaganda intended to demonize the entire pro-life movement and drum up support for late-term abortion.” Several other anti-abortion websites urged visitors to contact PBS headquarters or PBS Ombudsman Michael Getler to protest stations airing the film.
South Carolina ETV in Columbia and Mississippi Public Broadcasting in Jackson declined to air After Tiller. The title references Dr. George Tiller, who performed late-term abortions and was murdered in 2009 by an anti-abortion activist.
“As a local station, SCETV has the ability to select programs we feel are timely and meaningful to our audience,” spokesperson Fran Johnson said. “There are a number of factors that go into programming decisions.”
Instead, SCETV chose to mark the ninth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, Johnson said, by airing a previous POV film, I’m Carolyn Parker: The Good, the Mad, and the Beautiful in the 10 p.m. timeslot. The film documents the hurricane’s devastation and ongoing rebuilding efforts in New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward.
Ronnie Agnew, executive director at Mississippi Public Broadcasting, said he respects POV and its content, “but we will always reserve the right to make programming decisions based on what we think will appeal to a wide audience. We were pleased to air two locally-produced documentaries on Monday night.”
Agnew added that After Tiller is available for viewers online.
POV spokesperson Cathy Fisher said POV had received about 100 emails regarding the film. Viewers also weighed in on POV’s message boards, in a Google+ chat Tuesday, and via social media.
Getler wrote in a column posted Thursday that he’d received 850 email and phone messages from viewers concerning the film.
He added that the program aired in less than half of the 50 major markets, and about a quarter of those shifted the program to air later at night. Getler said POV usually airs on around 55 percent of stations, with 73 percent coverage of American TV households; After Tiller aired on 48 percent of stations for 60 percent coverage.