Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Corporate Influence On Public Broadcasting Historically--Part 3

Lies Of Our Times was a now-defunct monthly Downtown Manhattan magazine, with offices at 145 West 4th Street in the early 1990's, which focused on misinformation and disinformation in the New York Times and other Establishment media. In 1991, Downtown asked its then-managaing editor, Bill Schaap, what was his opinion of PBS’s NewsHour, in terms of the issues that Lies Of Our Times was then raising?

“It’s a little hard to generalize. But, generally, it’s not quite as independent and unbiased and impartial as it purports to be. I think PBS is subject to the same pressures as the commercial networks,” Schaap answered.

Did the NewsHour ever invite any editor of Lies Of Our Times to discuss the issues that Lies Of Our Times raised?

“No,” said Schaap. “But they’ve certainly dealt with some of the issues, occasionally.”

Schaap noted that the Institute for Media Analysis, which then published the Lies Of Our Times magazine, also published a book, The Rise and Fall Of The Bulgarian Connection which documented that the MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour “did exactly the same thing as the commercial networks for four years” in spreading misinformation about the alleged involvement of Bulgarian secret police in the attempted assassination of the now-deceased Pope John.

"It’s hard to see where they’re much different than the other networks. They’re definitely pretty bad on their UNESCO coverage. Only in minor ways does their coverage differ from private networks,” Schaap said.


“They’re very much dependent on the good will of the Establishment and the government. You don’t suppose Mobil Oil would fund PBS if it exposed Mobil too much? Or that the government would provide it with funds if it was too anti-government?"

Downtown asked Schaap in 1991 how he would respond to the NewsHour’s then-spokesperson who maintained that a “line in the sand” existed between the show’s corporate funding sources and its editorial decision-making.

“I would disagree. It’s probably not blatant. The president of a corporation doesn’t go around the studio with a blue pencil. But there’s self-censorship.”

The Institute for Media Analysis was started by Schaap in the late 1980s, before it started to publish the now-defunct Lies Of Our Times.

“We really decided that there was a need for a major magazine devoted to this kind of media analysis in a magazine format,” recalled Schaap in 1991.

Had the media gotten better or worse since the Institute for Media Analysis was started?

“It continues to get worse. What happened is that the dependence on government keeps growing in the news media. They’re becoming dependent on sources of information in the government for their news. There’s also been greater pressure on the media from the Reagan and Bush [I] administrations in recent years [in the early 1990s],” observed Schaap.

Although Schaap agreed that “having anybody else tell them what to say” might raise freedom of the press issues if public participation in PBS editorial policy-formation increased, he dismissed the notion that more public accountability of PBS represented a greater threat to freedom of the journalists in the media than corporate control. “The fact is that the corporations have vast power over the media,” said Schaap.

Despite NewsHour spokesperson Ramsey’s 1991 contention that editorial independence of his publicly-funded show was not threatened by the acceptance of corporate funding, the Carnegie Commission also observed in its 1979 report that:

“An examination of the national television program service distributed by PBS reveals that outsider funder control is a very real issue in the present system…Corporations have become particularly visible in public broadcasting…Corporate underwriting has undoubtedly skewed the total schedule in the direction of cultural programs which are popular among the `upscale’ audience that corporations prefer. Controversial drama, documentaries, public affairs, and programs for minorities and other special audience must then compete for remaining discretionary money. Too often they have become casualties in a neo-Darwinian competition for scarce funds…

“Other funders have shown a similar interest in specifying the terms under which they will provide financial support…

“The fact is that public television, so dependent upon outside funding for its basic national schedule, has repeatedly forfeited its autonomy in programming. In one instance, rather than lose vitally necessary funding, programs were accepted by PBS and a large East Coast station even though PBS and the offering station did not agree with the program selected by the major corporate funder…The fact that underwriters can choose the programs they wish to fund or not to fund considerably reduces the system’s discretion.”

(Downtown 5/8/91)

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