PBS suspends TV show on Affleck scandal

New York - United States public television broadcaster PBS said on Wednesday that it was postponing a future season of Finding Your Roots after an investigation revealed that actor Ben Affleck had pressured producers into leaving out details about an ancestor of his who owned slaves.

PBS will not run the show's third season until staffing changes are made, including hiring a fact checker and an "independent genealogist" to review the show's contents, it said.

The show, hosted by Harvard University professor Henry Louis Gates Jr, traces family histories of celebrities and public figures.

The concern about Affleck's relative surfaced in the WikiLeaks cache of hacked Sony e-mail messages after Prof Gates asked a Sony executive for advice about a "megastar" who wanted to omit a detail about a slave-owning ancestor.

"We've never had anyone ever try to censor or edit what we found," Prof Gates wrote in July last year. He added that this would violate PBS rules and "once we open the door to censorship, we lose control of the brand".

When the episode, from the show's second season, was broadcast in October last year, it did not mention the slave-owning ancestor.

After the e-mail messages were posted to WikiLeaks two months ago, Prof Gates said producers had discovered more interesting ancestors from Affleck's family, including a relative from the Revolutionary War and an occult enthusiast.

Affleck said in April that he was "embarrassed" to learn about his relative and that he "lobbied" Prof Gates about what should go into the show. He said it was Prof Gates' decision alone. He said the show "isn't a news programme" and that celebrities voluntarily provide details about their family history.

On Wednesday, PBS said a probe showed Affleck had exerted "improper influence" over the editorial process and that the producers of the show had erred by not informing the network of the actor's "efforts to affect programme content".

PBS will not show Affleck's episode anymore and removed it from its online archive. It said it had not made a decision about whether to commit to a fourth season of the show.

New York Times

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 27, 2015, with the headline 'PBS suspends TV show on Affleck scandal'. Print Edition | Subscribe