Media Matters launches “Hands Off Public Broadcasting” campaign

Since the signing of the Public Broadcasting Act more than 35 years ago, Americans have relied on the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), National Public Radio (NPR), and other public broadcasting outlets to provide quality programs and independent journalism free from political or commercial pressure. According to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), the public believes that PBS programming is free from political tilt: A survey reveals that “the majority of the U.S. adult population does not believe that the news and information programming on public broadcasting is biased.” Unfortunately, that is not sufficient for some -- like CPB chairman Kenneth Y. Tomlinson, who wants public broadcasting to reflect his conservative political beliefs.

Tomlinson's recent actions endanger the independence of PBS and NPR and threaten the quality of its programming:

  • He has hired two ombudsmen, Ken Bode and William Schulz, both of whom have ties to conservative institutions and politicians.
  • He has hired Mary Catherine Andrews, the former director of the White House Office of Global Communications who wrote the guidelines for the ombudsman position while still at the White House, though Tomlinson now says this isn't true.
  • Unbeknownst to other members of the CPB board, he spent $10,000 in taxpayer money, to investigate alleged bias on the PBS program NOW, formerly hosted by Bill Moyers. Tomlinson has suggested the results confirm his belief that NOW's guest list is slanted to the left -- but he hasn't explicitly said so, and hasn't publicly released the taxpayer-funded study.
  • He helped raise $5 million to produce The Journal Editorial Report, a PBS program featuring the right-wing editorial board of The Wall Street Journal.
  • He named W. Kenneth Ferree as president and chief executive officer of CPB. Ferree is a former official at the Federal Communications Commission who played "a significant role" in the failed effort to loosen rules to allow a few large companies to further consolidate the mass media by acquiring multiple outlets in the same local market and lifting caps on how many TV stations one company can own nationwide. Ferree is an especially odd choice to run CPB, given that he says he isn't “much of a TV consumer,” doesn't “watch a lot of broadcast news,” prefers People magazine to The NewsHour With Jim Lehrer, and doesn't listen to NPR because he commutes to work on his motorcycle. Farree explained why he won't install a radio: "[M]y bikes are real cruisers. They're stripped down deliberately to look cool, and I don't want all that electronic gear."

Fortunately, some of our elected officials have taken action. Rep. John Dingell (D-MI), ranking Democrat on the House Commerce Committee, and Rep. David Obey (D-WI), ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, have written a letter to the Inspector General of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting demanding an investigation of recent actions by the CPB that may violate the Public Broadcasting Act. Dingell and Obey write: “Recent news reports suggesting that the CPB is increasingly making personnel and funding decisions on the basis of political ideology are extremely troubling.”

We at Media Matters for America agree with Dingell and Obey. That is why we have begun our "Hands Off Public Broadcasting" campaign to monitor, analyze and fight back against efforts to turn PBS, NPR, and other public broadcasting outlets into yet another outlet for conservative misinformation.

We are asking for you to take action. Please contact your representatives and ask them to support Dingell and Obey's call for an investigation into Tomlinson's political pressure on PBS and NPR. Let your representatives know that you support quality programming and independent journalism at PBS.

We will be constantly monitoring this situation and calling for action when needed. Media Matters will keep you informed about the background of the key players, key issues, and key facts in this battle. We will also let you know about useful resources and about others doing work to help keep public broadcasting free of right-wing political interference. Please visit regularly for the latest information.