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NewTV animal expose show not for the faint of heart
By Lindsay Crudele
Wednesday, July 6, 2005

A new show on NewTV will showcase lots of cute, furry animals, but it's not one that producers are calling kid-friendly.

That's because "Undercover TV," a San Francisco-based public access program, spends most of its time documenting grisly experimentation, vivisection and other gruesome scenes of animal exploitation, and it's been relegated to a late-night spot on the Blue Channel.

The program does not violate any FCC regulations, which only limits sexually explicit or indecent content, but not violence, according to NewTV's executive director. However, producers of the show have agreed to opt for a late-night slot, admitting that while the show isn't sexually explicit, its graphic portrayals of animals, such as skinned animals still alive and breathing, should only be seen by mature audiences.

"It's pretty graphic," said Julie Rothman, a Newton resident working with the Massachusetts Animal Rights Coalition, the group that sponsored the program on NewTV. But she said that sitting through unsavory scenes is a fair cost for the goal of enlightening people about the plight of animals in captivity. She said that the first 10 episodes have been filmed and are ready for broadcast.

San Francisco-based producer Gabe Quash said the show airs on public access stations in 25 cities across the country, including New York, Atlanta, San Francisco and Chicago, and is sponsored by the animal advocacy group In Defense of Animals.

He said that various animal rights groups around the country, such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, Farm Sanctuary, Mercy for Animals and Compassion over Killing engage in their own investigations into puppy mills, makeup testing facilities, and fur and egg production, and then submit footage for the program. Actress Bea Arthur appears on one episode.

For example, on an episode to air later in the season, Quash said that one group filmed inside an egg production farm in Ohio, where chickens are kept in tiny cages without room to spread their wings or move, and where sick and dead birds are left among the living.

"We show most of what's captured. It is a very graphic program. We don't edit out the most troubling images, but we want people to see the truth for what it is," said Quash, who said the footage is intended to be disturbing.

Quash said he has not yet received any complaints.

As for the audience of the program, he said it's something he hopes the general channel-surfing public will encounter while flipping through other programs. He said that so many depictions of animals in commercials portray happy cows and chickens, usually in cartoon form, that contradicts the real plight of the animals used in meat and fur industry.

Commercials like that "give the idea that there's no moral decision when eating animals," said Quash.

Asked if being the gatekeeper is a challenge in a case like this, NewTV Executive Director Paul Berg said, "I'm not the gatekeeper, and what I think doesn't matter."

He said that any Newtonite can submit material to air on NewTV, and so long as it doesn't violate FCC guidelines, as determined by the station's board of directors, the content must air. FCC guidelines prohibit obscene material of a sexual nature, but violence is untouched by the rules.

He said that his personal opinion, however, after having seen an episode of "Undercover TV," is that "if the goal of the producers of this program and their local sponsors is to upset people about the fur trade, they're doing a damn good job."

He described an episode he saw, which included scenes from a mink farm, where the animals had been skinned alive, looking around and breathing.

"That's probably not the worst of it, either," said Berg.

Berg said that in the past, programming of a similar nature elicited a phone call complaint, but it was to express the desire that it not air in the dinner hour.

He said that this program does follow the rules, technically, in that it does not contain content of a sexual or excretory nature as prohibited by the FCC; however, he said the producers understand that it should be shown late at night, away from the easy access of small children.

Producers submitting material to the station are required to notify station management of adult content, and Berg encourages members of the public to deliver feedback for what they see if something may be upsetting to children.

At some point, he said, it would be within the bounds of NewTV's board of directors to make their own rules prohibiting certain violence, but at this point, "I have to make decisions based on the existing rules."

Lindsay Crudele can be reached at lcrudele@cnc.com

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