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Public Broadcasting Group Will Replace Top Executive
Published on Tuesday, April 12, 2005 by the New York Times
Public Broadcasting Group Will Replace Top Executive
by Stephen Labaton
 

WASHINGTON -- The Corporation for Public Broadcasting has decided to replace its president and chief executive, Kathleen A. Cox, who has been in the post about nine months.

Also See:
Conservative Coup at CPB Brings Anti-Public-Interest- Oriented Ken Ferree to Agency's Head
Statement of Jeff Chester, Center for Digital Democracy
While it seeks a successor for Ms. Cox, the corporation will be led by W. Kenneth Ferree, a former senior official at the Federal Communications Commission who played a significant role in the failed effort to loosen rules to make it easier for media companies to expand into new businesses and geographic areas. Last month, Mr. Ferree, a telecommunications lawyer, was named chief operating officer of the corporation.

Mr. Ferree said he hoped to be a candidate for the job, and he took issue with statements raised by groups critical of his appointment.

Chellie Pingree, president of Common Cause, said on Monday that during Mr. Ferree's time at the F.C.C., he "seemed to be dismissive of the public interest obligations of broadcasters."

"These staff changes are being played out," Ms. Pingree said in a statement, "in what appears to be an increasingly politically charged environment for public broadcasting, roiled by recent administration and Congressional criticisms of certain of its programming decisions."

She said Mr. Ferree "seems an unlikely choice to steer C.P.B. in a way that would protect public broadcasting's editorial independence and that would ensure that no political or partisan interference mars its deeply important mission of providing substantive news and information to the American public."

But Mr. Ferree said that the criticism was unfounded.

"I am offended by the drive-by attack," he said. "At the F.C.C. we were trying to make free media better and stronger in this country. It's really sort of offensive. I didn't go to C.P.B. for any nefarious reason. I've gone to make it stronger and better. I believe in free media."

He said that public broadcasting was at a turning point as it faced growing competition and greater difficulty raising money.

"We're in tough fiscal times and will be for some time to come," he said. The corporation this year has a $386 million budget for programming and community grants for television and radio.

Asked whether he shared the criticism by some conservative groups that public broadcasting is either out of touch or too liberal, Mr. Ferree said: "We can always do better in programming. We're for balance. We want balanced programming."

He said that the corporation recently named two ombudsmen to "have a serious dialogue about programming" and ensure quality. The two, appointed last week, are Ken Bode, a former correspondent at NBC, and William Schulz, a former editor of Reader's Digest.

The Corporation for Public Broadcasting was created by Congress in 1967 to provide public money for radio and television programs. Most of its money for television goes into programs distributed through the Public Broadcasting Service.

The corporation announced the leadership change late Friday, surprising senior executives there and at the Public Broadcasting Service. Mr. Ferree said he had been unaware of the changes until Friday. A brief statement issued jointly by Ms. Cox and Kenneth Y. Tomlinson, the chairman of the corporation, said that she and the board had concluded it was time for "new executive leadership" after the completion of a study by McKinsey of its revenues and operations.

Jeannie Bunton, a spokeswoman for the corporation, said she could not elaborate on the announcement. She said Mr. Tomlinson was traveling and unavailable for comment. She also said she would forward a request for comment to Ms. Cox, who could not otherwise be reached.

While the announcement appeared abrupt, one board member said that Ms. Cox had been told weeks ago that her one-year contract would not be renewed.

Her departure follows a new round of criticism over some public television programs by conservative groups and members of the Bush administration. In one of her first acts as education secretary, Margaret Spellings sent a letter to PBS expressing "strong and serious concerns" about an episode in "Postcards From Buster" in which a girl introduces the cartoon bunny Buster Baxter to her mother and her mother's lesbian partner.

PBS officials discussed the program with education department officials before deciding to pull it. The letter from Ms. Spellings was received shortly after that decision, PBS officials have said.

Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

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