America’s Public Broadcasting Service has cancelled a series investigating people’s ancestors after it emerged it had agreed to a request from actor Ben Affleck to cover up his family’s history as slaveowners.
The broadcaster announced it was suspending the third season of Finding Your Roots after an internal inquiry found that it had violated its own standards. It said it as also delaying a decision about a fourth series until it had improved its standards.
The Associated Press said PBS launched its investigation after it was reported that Affleck had requested the programme not reveal his ancestor's slave-holding history in the 2014 episode. It then emerged that Affleck;s great-great-great-grandfather owned 24 slaves.
Affleck's request came to light last spring in hacked Sony emails published online by whistleblower site WikiLeaks.
The review found that the co-producers violated PBS standards by allowing improper influence on the show’s editorial process and failed to inform PBS of Affleck’s efforts to affect the program's content.
In a statement, series host and executive producer Henry Louis Gates Jr, apologised for forcing PBS to defend the integrity of its programming. He said he was working with public TV on new guidelines to ensure increased transparency.
“These reports marked the first time that either PBS or WNET learned of this request,” PBS said in a statement issued on Wednesday evening.
PBS said it will withdraw the episode from all forms of distribution including on-air, digital platforms and home video. The show was also ordered to hire an additional researcher and an independent genealogist to review programs for factual accuracy.
Affleck has yet to comment on the latest development.
In a posting on his Facebook page in April, he wrote: “We deserve neither credit nor blame for our ancestors and the degree of interest in this story suggests that we are, as a nation, still grappling with the terrible legacy of slavery.”