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MediaWatch: August 1989

Vol. Three No. 8

Janet Cooke Award: TBS: Abortion Advocacy

The Supreme Court's Webster vs. Reproductive Health Services decision has sent abortion proponents and opponents scurrying to the grass roots in an effort to persuade local constituencies of their cause. But pro-abortion forces, with huge financial backing and a media sympathetic to their cause, now have cable guru Ted Turner and his vast, supposedly objective telecommunications empire behind their cause. Through Cable News Network, Headline News, and Superstation TBS, Turner stands to make a significant impact on the debate.

His new 30 minute documentary Abortion: For Survival (which aired July 20, 22, and 23 on TBS) is the latest of many Turner programs supporting abortion. Its blatantly pro-abortion stance earns Turner the August Janet Cooke Award.

Turner has crafted a clever way to spread his political views through his media outlets. By chairing the Better World Society (BWS), Turner has aired more than 35 leftist and pro-Soviet documentaries and commercials on TBS and CNN. Through contractual agreements BWS produces these advocacy programs, which are then aired free of charge on Turner networks. In cooperation with the International Planned Parenthood Federation, BWS produced and TBS aired Increase and Multiply? in 1987.

BWS is so committed to abortion that Zhou Boping, Vice Chairman of the China Family Planning Association (CFPA), sits on its Board of Directors. The CFPA enforces the regime's one-child-per- family population control program which has led to more than ten million forced abortions per year. Nevertheless, BWS awarded CFPA one of its 1988 Better World Medals.

Abortion: For Survival is the most recent BWS initiative to promote abortion. Explaining the need for the program, Turner stated recently: "I am alarmed that forces opposed to birth control are growing in strength, even while explosive population growth overwhelms the developing world. Political efforts in the United States to block family planning assistance, including legal access to abortion, adversely affect vitally needed family planning and population stabilization programs throughout the world."

The program was co-produced with Eleanor Smeal's Fund for The Feminist Majority. The video opens with an actual abortion. Once the minute-long procedure is completed, the woman declares: "To lawmakers, I would like to say that there are hundreds of thousands of women whose lives are being affected. It's not a political thing, it's not a philosophical thing. It's women's lives."

The abortion documentary viciously attacks the pro-life movement: "In what could be termed a rash of domestic terrorism, factions in the anti-abortion minority have turned to tactics of increasing violence and harassment."

By twisting and distorting the facts, the video also attempted to translate the goal of abortion on demand in America to the world arena: "The World Health Organization estimates that 430 million people do not have enough to eat and suffer from malnutrition... Abortion is a necessity for millions of women world-wide....In a civilized society we owe women the right to make this decision safely. It is a matter of survival....We have forgotten that this is a moral right."

BWS put together an hour-long discussion to follow the documentary including abortion opponents Congressman Robert Dornan and Nellie Gray, and abortion supporters Smeal and Planned Parenthood's Faye Wattleton. But were Turner and BWS really interested in an unbiased, balanced presentation in its panel follow-up? Turner certainly wasn't, commenting: "We'll give the other bozos a chance to talk back. They look like idiots anyway."

BWS hired liberal commentator Martin Agronsky to moderate. He weighted the panel to the pro-abortion side, repeatedly asking leading questions such as "If abortion and birth control become illegal in more countries, and birth rates go up, how will we handle the increased competition for finite resources?" Between panel segments, actress Margot Kidder, in free ad time, told television viewers BWS "believes that all women must have access to all available methods for controlling their own fertility, including abortion."

To balance Abortion: For Survival, Gray asked BWS to also air a pro-life documentary, either Eclipse of Reason or its predecessor The Silent Scream. Gray's request was denied, according to BWS Associate Director Victoria Markell because "We had already determined the format of the program." TBS publicist Kirsten White was not aware of the request but said that TBS Executive Vice President Bob Levy, "in conjunction with Ted Turner," would have the "final say so." White claimed: "At this point, we feel that the panel discussion that is being produced to follow it up will give ample opportunity to both sides to discuss the issue."

TBS officials jockeyed to paint the presentation as balanced through ads on TBS and CNN, but Turner admitted at a recent shareholders meeting that his personal feelings play a role in what is aired. Turner, who controls 61 percent of Turner Broadcasting stock, proceeded to defeat a proposed resolution that would guarantee "equitable" distribution of free airtime.

That's in keeping with Turner's "no holds barred" attitude toward broadcasting and public opinion making. It's also allowable in a free and democratic society. But while Turner can propagandize, viewers can also refuse his propaganda. When you view Abortion: For Survival, keep in mind the Better World Society's goals. Remember that Turner and his networks may be the greatest asset ever to the pro-abortion forces. Remember that you control your television sets, not Turner.