WASHINGTON -- May 10 -- The Corporation for Public Broadcasting wants to have greater control over all PBS programming. Despite its statutorily limited role in content, the GOP-dominated CPB board fashioned a National Programming Service Agreement that would have give it unprecedented influence and power over PBSs programming schedule. CPB regularly provides modest annual funding to PBS to help support its National Programming Service (NPS). For the current contract period (FY 2005-2006), CPB has earmarked slightly more than $26 million to help pay for some of the primetime and childrens shows on PBS.
But for the first time in the 14-year history of the NPS agreement, CPB made a series of legal demands designed to reshape PBS programming to its own conservative and non-journalistic ideological perspectives. According to the contract, CPB wanted PBS to agree that its programming would be governed by its own sponsored research and analysiscalled the CPB Needs Assessment Research and Analysis." CPBs goal was to secure an ideological "straitjacket" over what should be the editorial independence of PBS programmers.
According to the agreement sent to PBS, each year CPB would conduct, and convey to PBS documents describing key findings and conclusions of, research and analysis necessary to determine public and audience service needs." CPB would send such material to PBS on an ongoing basis throughout the year. In addition, CPB insisted that at its discretion it would conduct additional studies and a comprehensive system-wide needs assessment. One of its stated goals for this research was to help identify
what good television programming can provide
. PBS would be required to use this research in formulating its national programming plans.
The good programming intended by CPB, of course, is a PBS schedule bereft of serious journalism and independent programming. One can only imagine the kind of TV schedule CPB Board Chairman Ken Tomlinson and his cronies fancy--one dominated by programs where Paul Gigot and Michael Medved meet the ghost of Lawrence Welk at an Antique Roadshow. Or--since Tomlinson is part of the upper-class pony set of the Virginia countryside--a show starring the talking horse Mr. Ed, spewing forth on trickle-down economics and private retirement accounts.
In what must be a clear violation of its mandate not to be involved in programming decisions, CPB demanded that PBS supply it annually with a list of the national programs to be made, detailing how each reflected its research. CPB could disapprove using its funds for any individual program it did not find acceptable.
CPB also pressured PBS to formally change the network's own journalistic standards. It gave PBS a deadline of June 30, 2005 to develop and adopt revised standards and guidelines that were intended to undermine the production of investigative and other serious journalistic programming. Each program might be required to be objective and balanced, thus eliminating investigative reporting and point of view documentaries.
In a private memo distributed to PBS executives, the network's vice president and deputy general counsel described the proposed CPB contract as intruding upon PBS editorial independence and integrity
and indicates a desire to control the content of all PBS programming. Thankfully, PBS president Pat Mitchell refused to sign the contract. A less onerous version was agreed to in April 2005, one that PBS believes doesnt compromise editorial integrity. But CPBs leaders still intend to control content on public broadcasting, including the use of its research.
CPB board chair Ken Tomlinson has recklessly politicized CPB. Instead of overseeing an independent agency with a mandate to promote public broadcasting, he has abused his power to promote a narrow, self-serving agenda. Tomlinson must resign. His replacement should be a chair with an allegiance neither to Republicans nor to Democrats--but to serving the American public.