Sunday, April 20, 2008

Corporate Influence On Public Broadcasting Historically--Part 1

Asked by Downtown in 1991 if there was any connection between WNET and MacNeil-Lehrer Gannett Productions, a WNET spokesperson replied:

“We are one of the presenting stations of the MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour. We don’t have any input in MacNeil-Lehrer Productions. MacNeil-Lehrer is an independent satellite, not a part of WNET.”

Asked by Downtown in 1991 whether WNET thought there might be a conflict-of-interest in its NewsHour also operating MacNeil-Lehrer Productions, the spokesperson answered:

“Not at all. The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour is a program funded separately, funded by public television and there is a station editorial board which helps run the program.”

But in 1979, the Carnegie Commission on the Future of Public Broadcasting published a report, titled A Public Trust, in which it noted that as early as the 1970s:

“Many public groups, once staunch supporters of public broadcasting against the blandness and vulgarities of commercial broadcasting, began to express disappointment about the record of public broadcasting on programming for minorities and women, public participation in station governance, equal employment opportunity, clandestine commercialism via corporate underwriting and the use of so many British imports.”

Asked by Downtown in 1991 if she felt that the presence of somebody from a commercial network like former CBS Evening News Anchor Walter Cronkite on WNET’s board in 1991 seemed to back-up the concern expressed by the Carnegie Commission’s A Public Trust report about “clandestine commercialism” in public television, the WNET spokesperson insisted:

“We are noncommercial and nonprofit. There are no commercials on public television. We are chartered as a nonprofit corporation.”

She then expressed suspicion about Downtown’s line of questioning, wanted more information about exactly what Downtown was going to write about “her” public broadcasting station and requested that she not be publicly identified in this article. Instead, she suggested that Downtown speak with Christopher Ramsey at MacNeil-Lehrer Productions if it had any more questions about possible conflict-of-interests or clandestine commercialism at Channel 13.

(Downtown 5/8/91)

Next: Corporate Influence On Public Broadcasting Historically—Part 2

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