February 17, 2014

Do you contribute to PBS? Stop it, and now

Do you watch PBS? Maybe even make a donation, but have in the past?

At the same time, are you alarmed by things such as the David H. Koch Fund for Science being a primary backer of Nova? Worried that, due to this, Nova might pull punches on climate change stories?

That's only the tip of the iceberg. Recently, a flagship PBS station (most programming is produced by member stations) took money from another far-right foundation to promote the idea of austerity, austerity, austerity, specifically, the cutting of public sector pensions.

And willingly so:
Despite Arnold’s pension-slashing activism and his foundation’s ties to partisan politics, Leila Walsh, a spokesperson for the Laura and John Arnold Foundation (LJAF), told Pando that PBS officials were not hesitant to work with them, even though PBS’s own very clear rules prohibit such blatant conflicts. (note: the term “PBS officials” refers interchangeably to both PBS officials and officials from PBS flagship affiliate WNET who were acting on behalf of the entire PBS system).

To the contrary, the Arnold Foundation spokesperson tells Pando that it was PBS officials who first initiated contact with Arnold in the Spring of 2013. She says those officials actively solicited Arnold to finance the broadcaster’s proposal for a new pension-focused series. According to the spokesperson, they solicited Arnold’s support based specifically on their knowledge of his push to slash pension benefits for public employees.
Piece gets worse from there, starting with the fact this is arguably illegal for PBS to do.
As a taxpayer-funded entity, PBS’s official rules clearly prohibit the funding of programming by a benefactor who “has asserted, or has the right to assert, editorial control over a program.” Those rules also do not allow programming to be funded by a benefactor who is “pre-ordaining the conclusion the viewer should draw from the materials presented.”
Go read the whole thing.

In this follow-up, PBS says it will return the grant, but doesn't say much more. However, the Arnold Foundation admits its initial agreement with WNET did, did, did include editorial control, despite PBS/WNET denials:
(H)ere’s where it gets interesting: the Arnold Foundation’s new statement insists that under the formal agreement cemented with public broadcasting officials, public television stations would be permitted to “provide fully independent reporting.” The Arnold Foundation also now says “there are no provisions in the LJAF/WNET grant agreement relating to editorial content.” And the foundation in its statement goes on to disclose more explicit terms of the contract it signed with public broadcasting officials.
If PBS wants to run nothing put advertorials funded by big bucks, stop giving them money. Ditto for NPR.

Add to this a related fact. PBS' contribution benchmarks to qualify for tchotchkes has risen significantly over the past few years. I guess PBS doesn't want, and doesn't need, contributions from "viewers like me" anymore, any way.

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And, let National Geographic find other funding than for religious fundamentalist snake handlers, too.

Meanwhile, the Texas Tribune has shown how bad corporate-funded journalism gets here in the Abandoned Pointy Object State.

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