Thursday, September 20, 2001

Idaho

IPTV to air 'Evolution' alternative
Legislator provides program to offset science series on public television

Betsy Z. Russell
Staff writer

BOISE _ When Idaho Public Television airs a program next week that disputes evolution, it will be the first time the public TV network has aired a program provided by a state legislator.

Sen. Stan Hawkins, R-Ucon, handed IPTV officials a videotape of the one-hour documentary "The Young Age of the Earth" as the Legislature's joint budget committee set the TV network's budget in February, and urged them to air it. Hawkins, a frequent critic of public television, co-chairs the joint commi
ttee.

Next week, "The Young Age of the Earth" will be one of several companion shows airing along with a four-day national documentary series entitled "Evolution."

"I would say that it is illustrative of what some of the folks who believe in creationism believe or espouse," said IPTV broadcasting director Ron Pisaneschi. "In the same way that we try to provide an opportunity for a variety of different voices into the schedule, it seemed to me that this was one that made sense. The production values are pretty good. They certainly met all the standards that we would expect for programming."

Some lawmakers were sharply critical of IPTV last year for airing a documentary about how some schools deal with issues surrounding homosexuality. When that national documentary, "It's Elementary," aired, IPTV offered opponents air time for an opposing program. But the opponents proposed only one -- and it had copyright problems.

Local critics, including members of the now-defunct religious groups Idaho Family Forum and Idaho Christian Coalition, refused to appear on a "Dialogue" call-in program aired after that show, so the network invited a guest from a national family values group.

Nevertheless, lawmakers who were angry that "It's Elementary" was broadcast talked of cutting off IPTV's state funding, and tied strings to the network's budget last year requiring it to air frequent disclaimers. Those disclaimers note that acts depicted on TV shows might violate state laws if they were committed in Idaho, and that the programs aren't encouraging the violation of state laws.

Lawmakers also required more oversight of public television programming by the state Board of Education. Although the legal mandate to run the disclaimers expired July 1, the education board decided to keep them running. The board was scheduled to discuss the disclaimers again at its board meeting today, but has now put that discussion off until October.

With the "Evolution" series next week, there will be three companion programs, in addition to an expanded, one-hour "Dialogue" call-in show with guests from secular and religious colleges in Idaho.

Idaho Public Television already has begun airing one of the companion shows, a rerun of Bill Moyers' "Genesis, a Living Conversation."

That program is airing each Wednesday night at 10 and lasts for 10 weeks. Next week, "Evolution" will run Monday through Thursday from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. On Tuesday night, it will be followed by "Voices for Creation," a one-hour "point-of-view documentary" produced by a public television station in Marquette, Mich. On Thursday night, "Evolution" will be followed by "The Young Age of the Earth."

The expanded "Dialogue" program will air at 6 p.m., before Thursday episode of "Evolution."

Jim Hammond, a state Board of Education member from Post Falls, said: "It looks to me like this is an effort to provide the kind of balance that they've been asked for. ... The source of information isn't as important as the fact that we provide different points of view."

Other states are taking a variety of approaches with the "Evolution" series. Some are letting the series stand alone. Others are running various counterpoint programs along with it, including the programs Idaho is running and others.

Said Pisaneschi: "Every station chooses to do what they want to do. ... I think it's important to give an opportunity for other voices to be heard."

He added: "I'm not aware of a legislator having provided a program to us before. On the other hand, we have over the years received comments from viewers who say that there's a lot of programming on that presents the evolution point of view -- Nova, Nature ... and they've never seen anything that presents the viewpoint of those who believe in the biblical version of creation."

"The Young Age of the Earth" was produced by Earth Science Associates of Knoxville, Tenn., and was provided to IPTV at no cost, as was "Voices for Creation."

"Evolution" was produced by WGBH in Boston and Clear Blue Sky Productions, which is owned by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen and distributed by PBS. When Hawkins gave IPTV the videotapes, he offered to underwrite the broadcast of "The Young Age of the Earth" himself, if necessary.

But Pisaneschi said the broadcast is being funded in the usual manner, by viewer contributions. IPTV received a $10,000 grant from the Boston station that produced "Evolution" to underwrite the expanded "Dialogue" program. Hawkins could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.


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