From members of Congress and their staff to business leaders, educators and the general public, many have come to view FRONTLINE as a trusted source of news and current affairs material. FRONTLINE prides itself on tackling challenging subject matter and making complex issues accessible to large and diverse audiences. Moreover, FRONTLINE has a long-standing tradition of affecting legal and social change within the United States and abroad.
Affecting National & International Policy Change
The FRONTLINE/CBC/New York Times investigation A Dangerous Business, a report about safety and environmental violations committed by McWane, Inc., prompted the federal Occupation Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to announce an “enhanced enforcement policy” on workplace safety designed to strengthen the agency’s ability to act against companies with “high-gravity” citations.
FRONTLINE’s film American Porn reported on the rise of sexually explicit material available in America. Robert Zicari and his wife, Janet Romano, ran Extreme Associates and produced films that included scenes of simulated rape and torture. Both were indicted by the United States Attorney’s Office on obscenity charges as a direct result of being featured in the FRONTLINE investigation. It was the first time in more than a decade that the federal government filed such charges.
In FRONTLINE’s film Beyond Baghdad, producers Martin Smith and Marcela Gaviria returned to Iraq to observe the United States’ plans to democratize Iraq. After viewing the film, the U.S. Army War College requested to use footage from Kirkuk to develop an online, strategic leadership-training program–the “Kirkuk Game”–based on the rebuilding challenges faced by the 173rd Airborne Brigade. The game is available online to military personnel and is accessible for the education and training of U.S. military senior leaders and planners.
In the FRONTLINE film Global Dumping Ground, correspondent Bill Moyers and producer Lowell Bergman investigated America’s shadowy industry–the international export of hazardous waste. The program prompted a U.N. resolution calling for a ban on the dumping of toxic waste from developed nations in the Third World. It also led to a crackdown in China on waste traffickers shown in the documentary who had claimed to be operating recycling companies.
FRONTLINE’s documentary Hot Guns, produced with the Center for Investigative Reporting, took viewers inside the illegal handgun market and followed federal agents as they investigated one of the biggest cases ever involving stolen guns and the black market gun trade. California State Assembly member Jack Scott authored the Firearms Manufacturing Accountability Act–legislation intended to curb black market sales of firearms–as a “…direct result of your documentary.”
Influencing and Ensuring Justice
The state of North Carolina dropped all charges against Terence Garner, a 21-year-old inmate serving a 34-to-43-year sentence for an armed robbery and shooting he insisted he didn’t commit. Garner was released from prison less than one month after Ofra Bikel’s FRONTLINE documentary An Ordinary Crime presented strong evidence of his innocence. From The News and Observer, June 12, 2002: Garner’s attorney, Mark Montgomery of Durham, credited the documentary for Garner’s release. “It’s humbling to realize I spent four years trying to get this kid, who I believe to be innocent, out of prison using all my lawyer skills, and a 90-minute television documentary springs him like magic,” Montgomery said.
In the FRONTLINE film The Plea, producer Ofra Bikel told several stories of individuals with one thing in common: They had to confront the difficult dilemma of a plea bargain. Following the broadcast of the film, two of the people profiled were granted parole; in both cases, the parole boards viewed the relevant stories in The Plea when considering their decision.
FRONTLINE’s The Case for Innocence is also credited with freeing innocent men from jail. The 90-minute film produced by Ofra Bikel brought national attention to the cases of three longtime inmates who had been fighting for years for the right to undergo DNA tests that might exonerate them. Hundreds of viewers wrote to FRONTLINE expressing not only their outrage, but also their intention to lobby lawmakers to address the situation. Just over a year after FRONTLINE’s initial broadcast, all three of the profiled prisoners had been exonerated and freed as a result of new DNA tests.
Based in part on findings revealed in FRONTLINE’S documentary A Dangerous Business, a federal jury in Birmingham, Ala., convicted McWane Cast Iron Pipe Company and three executives of environmental crimes for repeatedly discharging polluted water into Birmingham’s Avondale Creek. McWane agreed to plead guilty to charges of safety and environmental violations at its Union Foundry plant in Birmingham. The company acknowledged mishandling dust contaminated with lead and cadmium, which have been tied to lung cancer, and admitted to willfully violating safety rules by not having a required safety guard on a conveyor belt, which crushed to death employee Reginald Elston. McWane agreed to pay $3.5 million in fines.
Innocence Lost, Ofra Bikel’s duPont-Columbia Award-winning profile of Edenton, N.C., a town torn apart by reports of sexual abuse at its most prestigious day care center, played an influential role in prosecutors’ decision to drop all standing charges of sexual abuse against the remaining defendants.
FRONTLINE’s documentary The Fixers led to the Justice Department’s first indictment and guilty plea for campaign finance violations in the 1996 presidential election.
In a co-production with the Center for Investigative Reporting, Your Loan Is Denied examined the devastating effects of discriminatory mortgage-lending practices. The documentary led to a Justice Department investigation of redlining in mortgage lending and a dramatic increase in the number of complaints that were formally investigated by the Department.
In addition to FRONTLINE’s history of affecting legal and social change, the series has remained a trusted resource for leaders and policy-makers at the local, state, national and international levels. FRONTLINE documentaries consistently inform the work that shapes our world.