Last Saturday night, CBS Television showed a film which sympathetically portrays an abortionist. "The Benefactors" is frank about the extent to which abortion has become a problem in this country, and it must have scandalized a lot of people. A lot, that is, except the people in Massachusetts, who were not given a chance to be scandalized--thanks to WHDH, the local CBS affiliate station.
Worried WHDH officials saw the film at a closed-circuit preview and decided that it was "needlessly offensive" for Massachusetts audiences, even though the National Association of Broadcasters had said that "The Benefactors" did not violate its code.
These officials, to be sure, had a perfect right to exercise their option and refuse the film; despite much talk about public service, a television station is a commercial enterprise, and any movie about abortion will certainly offend some customers. But it is too bad that WHDH didn't take the risk. There would have been a fuss (though few people seem to mind when a "perfect crime" or a sympathetic criminal is shown on a normal program)--but it is hard to believe that a station with network programs would lose much advertising or many viewers for showing such a film. Whatever future television has as a medium for serious discussion depends on the willingness of local station officials to risk occasional controversy. Recently CBS has been trying hard to give the public something more than escape--witness "Biography of a Bookie Joint," which also wasn't shown in Massachusetts. Too bad the local stations won't cooperate.