Petitions Call on APT to not air Controversial Documentary

Religious leaders and community members wait outside the APT building in Birmingham, preparing to deliver their petitions

About a dozen people including religious leaders, Alabama Public Television employees and community members delivered two petitions to the APT headquarters in Birmingham Thursday, calling on the Alabama Educational Television Commission to not air a controversial documentary series and to reinstate two top executives.

It’s the latest action prompted by the unexpected firing of former executive director Allan Pizzato and former chief financial officer Pauline Howland. The commission fired the two executives in June with some commissioners stating they wanted to take the network in a new direction. Critics contend the firing came, in part, because Pizzato and Howland refused to air a historic documentary series produced by David Barton.

Barton is an evangelical minister and conservative activist who runs the Texas-based WallBuilders LLC organization. Detractors say his view of history is not accurate.

“David Barton is not in any remote sense a historian,” said Mark Potok, Senior Fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center. “David Barton is simply a propagandist and a propagandist who lies.”

One petition, which originated with the group Faithful America, says Pizzato and Howland were right to object to airing the Barton series. It calls on the commission to rehire the two executives and “keep Religious Right hate” from airing on APT. Organizers say that petition has 14,000 signatures.

A second petition developed by the progressive organization CREDO action calls on APT to not air any Barton programming. Organizers say 100,000 people signed that petition. Between the two documents, they say 3,250 signatures are from Alabama residents.

“It’s important to recognize that there are that many Alabamians who signed it, but also to recognize what a national issue it’s now become,” said Lutheran pastor Darryl Kiehl. “People who trust public television everywhere are upset that this kind of material could intrude into public television. It’s sort of like the proverbial camel’s nose under the tent.”

Alabama Public Television chief operating officer Charles Grantham accepted the petitions and thanked the petitioners for their support. He said they would be delivered to the commission. Grantham said at this point there are no plans to run the David Barton series.

“As long as I have a voice in it, it will not be aired,” Grantham said. “But the commission does have the authority to fire me, demote me, send me home and do whatever they wish to do.”

Grantham added he believes the majority of APT staff do not have confidence in the commission

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Earlier this week Grantham sent a letter to Governor Robert Bentley expressing concerns that the controversy could harm APT.

~ Andrew Yeager, July 26, 2012

CORRECTION: Updates the number of Alabama petition signers. Faithful America originally stated 3,500 signatures.