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Anatomy of a mugging Public TV not immune

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Remaking PBS in the more "fair and balanced" image of the Fox Network

 
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There is something comforting about public broadcasting. Compared to the networks' vacant sit-coms, sappy dramas, and obnoxious reality shows, watching a PBS station has a calming effect, even if the program's subject matter is disturbing: Frontline or NOW with Bill Moyers or a documentary on Alzheimer's disease.

Through grants, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting partially funds the Public Broadcasting System, which has brought you everything from Mister Rogers' Neighborhood to Austin City Limits to egg. (But the CPB's money comprises a small part of PBS stations' budgets; the rest comes from viewers' contributions, foundations, and other grants.) But PBS, considered to be a stalwart of independent media, is also vulnerable to political and corporate interests.

During the Congressional recess, President Bush appointed two new people to the nine-member CPB board, Gay Hart Gaines and Cheryl Halpern, who with their families, have contributed more than $816,000 to Republican causes over the past 14 years, according to an analysis by Common Cause. He also appointed another Republican Claudia Puig. The Public Broadcasting Act states that no more than five members of the board may be members of the same political party.

The Senate will have to confirm Bush's appointments after one year.

Gaines was a major fundraiser through GOPAC for Newt Gingrich when he was leading the charge to defund CPB.

Rumblings have surfaced that the CPB is displeased with the alleged leftward lean to some of PBS' programming. Common Cause also reported that in November, Halperm suggested CPB should have the power to penalize broadcasters for programs it says are unbalanced. A recent New York Times article noted that NOW, a program that dissects and criticizes corporate corruption and the Bush administration's malfeasance, among other topics, had come under fire for being "too liberal." CPB does not fund NOW.

However, to "balance" PBS programming, the CPS is partially funding a show is with conservative commentator Tucker Carlson, who already serves as co-host of CNN's political debate program, Crossfire.

PBS' policy is to provide balance across its programming (not necessarily within one show). Yet, if you look at the public stations among the larger array of network and cable offerings æ many of which push a conservative political agenda æ PBS is one of the few outposts where it is safe to criticize the status quo. With Bush's recess appointments and the changing attitude at CPB, we can't be surprised when Carlson is the rule, not the exception at PBS.

A clearinghouse for media coverage of public broadcasting can be found at Current.org. It is unrelated to the San Antonio Current. •

By Lisa Sorg


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