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Consumer advocates & media reformers call for nationwide hearings on public broadcasting

April 28, 2005
Josh Silver, Free Press, (413) 585-1533, x 21
Gene Kimmelman, Consumers Union, (202) 462-6262
Mark Cooper, Consumer Federation of America, (301) 384-2204
Chellie Pingree, Common Cause, (202) 736-5770
Timothy Karr, Free Press, (201) 533-9242

Consumer advocates and media reformers call for nationwide hearings on Public Broadcasting
Groups unveil strategy to protect public broadcasting from politically motivated bureaucrats and lawmakers

WASHINGTON – Free Press, Consumers Union, Common Cause and the Consumer Federation of America today announced a plan to “take public broadcasting to the people,” proposing a series of local hearings across the country where the public will talk directly to broadcasters and policymakers about the future of public broadcasting.
In a report released today, “A New Standard: Building a Public Broadcasting System that
Deserves Public Support,” the four organizations called for “a public ascertainment process” before lawmakers and bureaucrats attempt to set politically motivated standards for the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) and other public broadcasters. The report recommends town meetings in each community that include a broad array of constituencies, elected officials, and decision makers from local PBS and other noncommercial stations.
The report was released following a series of recent statements by politicians, bureaucrats and commentators that questioned the viability of PBS and other noncommercial media. Recent appointments to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) raise additional concerns that a partisan agenda may have overtaken the agency that Congress put in place to safeguard public broadcasters from political interference and commercial pressure.
“We must bring the public back into public broadcasting,” said Josh Silver, executive director of Free Press, the nonpartisan media reform group. “Many across the political spectrum seem willing to abandon public broadcasting, allowing it to turn it into a purely commercial enterprise. It is critical to bring viewers out to talk about what they want and how they would like to get it.”
“If the structure of public broadcasting is to be reformed in a positive direction, it must be driven from the bottom up,” said Gene Kimmelman, senior director of public policy and advocacy for Consumers Union. “Policy and programming decisions should not be based on the perceived interests of the public deduced by political leaders and executives under fiscal, political and organizational pressure. Public hearings will tell us exactly what the people want.”
“At a time when consolidation in the media has reduced the number of genuinely local outlets and independent programs, it is critical for public broadcasting stations to embrace that responsibility,” said Mark Cooper, director of research at the Consumer Federation of America. “As long as we continue to care deeply about the shape of the mainstream media system, we must struggle to set standards and make policies for noncommercial media that attract wide support, expand its appeal to new constituencies, and broaden the range of debate and the diversity of culture available.”
“Public broadcasting is not the only noncommercial media we care about, but it is an important component of that universe,” said Chellie Pingree, President and CEO, Common Cause. “Our 300,000 members and supporters rely on public broadcasting as the major source of their news and information. We will engage them in efforts to ensure that public broadcasting does a much better job providing local news and public affairs programming, and produces more in-depth, substantive national reporting.”
Read a full copy of the report (PDF only).