Wednesday, April 18, 2007

PBS at the Crossroads

Last night I saw a few moments of a back lit Richard Perle in the most infuriating piece of Bush propaganda that PBS has ever devised, America at the Crossroads. (sic-- once again we see the US referred to as "America") The New York Times reviewed the Perle segment yesterday. Danny Schecter tells me that the series was one of Michael Pack's projects. Pack, who headed the Corporation for Public Television formerly directed Worldnet, a service of the U.S. Information Agency, then parent of the Voice of America. So I guess he was well versed in producing propaganda. I think the media reform community needs to address the whole issue of so-called "public media"-- both PBS and NPR. My friend Tony says that PBS is beyond hope. I know there are many who think that way. We might not be able to really change it, but making an effort to struggle would clarify issues around the whole notion of "public interest".
Years ago I was part of a struggle to "make public television public". Here are some of the documents from that 70's battle.There was even an article in TV Guide.Channel 13, WNET TV's license was challenged by a New Jersey coalition. WNET is licensed in New Jersey and hardly ever has paid attention to that state. We challenged the whole structure of financing which gave control of program content selection to corporations. My own role was as President of Association of Independent Video and Filmmakers, demanding greater funding and channel space for independent and diverse productions.We demanded that the boards of public television stations be elected and that all board meetings (including committee meetings) be open to the public.The struggle was picked up by a British magazine, which covered the "row" over millions of CPB/PBS dollars going to the BBC for a Shakespeare series. That issue brought major labor support for our cause. The AFL-CIO testified with us in Congressional hearings. That's me at the Steinbeck. Our coalition included the Consumer Federation which issued its own position paper. Warren Brarren was our liason.There were demands for public interest satellite space, which was finally won with 4% of DBS funding in the 1990s and which has meant space for Freespeech TV, Link TV and many universities, such as the University of California.The CFA also demanded that commercial broadcasters pay a fee for use of public airwaves. Of course, instead, they are now the recipients of the biggest give-away in communication history.The New York Times took up the cause of independent production.But the trade paper, Show Business, understood that the struggle was for control, not crumbs. The battle had many fronts. There was a law suit by the Emergency Civil Liberties Union. After years of lobbying and demonstrations, independents did get language in the public broadcasting legislation that said "a substantial portion of production funding should go to independent producers". Although it would take years before a mechanism for that was established: ITVS the Independent Television Service, which funds productions for public television.Perhaps the most important victory of our coalition was legislation requiring all public television boards of directors (any entities receiving CPB(Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the funding mechanism) be open to the public. That includes committees, except for personnel committees. This opening has not been adequately used. For example, groups around the country could go to their local PTV (or NPR) station's board meetings and demand that Democracy Now! be broadcast in their community. Or young people could demand that programming that address their issues be developed. Or seniors. Or health care advocates. Or people who object to the sort of blatent propaganda that the Crossroads of America represents could ask for equal time. To read more about that series, see Gary Kamiya's article on Salon at:

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