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|In letter, local clergy blast Framingham TV hosts' Holocaust take||April 21, 2010|
|Michael Morton 508-626-4338||Metrowest Daily News|
FRAMINGHAM - Two dozen town clergy are challenging a local TV host's Holocaust interpretations, deeming his public access shows hateful and misleading while also acknowledging his right to air them.
In a letter published in the Daily News, the Framingham Interfaith Clergy Association urged offended residents to file complaints with Framingham Public Access TV, or FPAC, but stopped short of calling for a ban of host Jim Rizoli and his brother Joe, the show producer.
Had the group done so, the Rev. Kathleen Hepler of the Unitarian-Universalist First Parish said she might not have signed, even with her belief that the show features hateful messages under the guise of "these are just the facts."
"I do believe in freedom of speech, and this is public access," she said. "It is difficult."
The debate centers on the Rizolis, known around town for their criticism of illegal immigrants. On their "Weekly Show" and in other broadcasts, they have also turned to playing videos which they believe provide proof that many Holocaust details have been exaggerated or distorted.
On the 100th anniversary episode of their "Weekly Show," Jim Rizoli questions the Holocaust death toll, says the heads of concentration camp residents were simply shaved to ward off life-threatening lice and claims gas chambers were not used to kill Jews but to disinfect their clothing.
"It wasn't to humiliate you," he says of the head shaving. "It was to save your life. Sorry."
Rizoli said yesterday he doesn't see anything hateful about his shows and labeled his critics the true Holocaust deniers, since he simply questions some aspects of the historical account and is seeking the truth.
"Why can't it be debated?" he asked, describing the response as persecution akin to that faced by Galileo when the astronomer challenged the accepted view of the solar system. "Why is the Holocaust the only subject in the world that can't be debated?"
Rizoli said he doesn't consider himself a skinhead or a Neo-Nazi or even a hater. He's drawn largely to Holocaust revisionist discussions because it's a taboo subject.
The station that broadcasts the Rizolis' shows, FPAC, is a member-run non-profit primarily funded through licensing fees paid by commercial cable television providers.
Station staff could not be reached yesterday.
Two weeks ago, Gwendolyn Holbrow, president of the station's board of directors, wrote a post on the station's blog about controversial programming and the process for filing complaints.
The post does not mention any show or contributor by name, but described a recent surge of complaints from viewers unhappy with programming.
Under station policies, submitted content can only be rejected if it features commercial advertising; illegally uses copyrighted or trademarked material; seeks to commit fraud; asks for money without approval; lacks consent or release forms; or runs afoul of other rules governing libel, slander, obscenity and privacy.
Another option for dealing with content deemed indecent, profane, vulgar, patently offensive or unsuitable for children is to move it to late-night schedules.
While the board has not threatened to ban the Rizolis' Holocaust shows though Jim Rizoli still believes members are conspiring against him their "Weekly Show" has been moved back an hour to 10 p.m. and their Holocaust specials played in the early morning hours.
The Rev. Deborah Clark of Framingham's Edwards United Church of Christ applauded the switches as a good first step, calling on her congregation and others to resolve the free speech issue by submitting their own counter-programming celebrating diversity and truth.
"That makes the negative programming a small voice rather than a large voice," she said.
Between the two content categories the banned and the questionable lies a gray area, Holbrow acknowledged, with the station revising its system for making determinations and responding to complaints.
The clergy's letter represented a wide range of congregations, including Episcopalians, Catholics, Methodists and Jews. They wrote that shows like the Rizolis' "plant seeds of hate" that tear at the fabric of the community and fit a larger pattern of targeting minorities, including the town's Brazilians.
"I wish this wasn't being publicly aired, but it would be worse for it to go underground," Hepler said.
At the Anti-Defamation League's New England offices, Regional Director Derrek Shulman commended his hometown clergy for stepping forward. Ignoring hateful messages, he said, could allow them to take root.
One local television producer has already fought back. Having already submitted FPAC shows interviewing Holocaust survivors, Ed Brookmyer has stepped up production in response to the Rizolis, introducing one segment by blasting "Iranian-style, Neo-Nazi Holocaust denials" without naming names.
"Where do you draw the line?" Brookmyer asked of the Rizolis' shows. "Does that fall into the same First Amendment right? I don't know. It's a very sticky wicket."
For his troubles, Brookmyer has been asked to appear at the station Monday night for a public hearing investigating complaints against him filed by the Rizolis. He blames the two brothers, not the board.
"They're not the type that are going to back down or go away anytime soon," Brookmyer said.
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