Quarrel kicks off new ITVS

Independent producers fault CPB funding pledge

By Stephen Singer

Independent producers and officials of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting have established the new independent television service with another quarrel.

The two parties have negotiated — often heatedly — for nearly a year over establishing the service, which will distribute to independent producers $6 million of CPB funds ordered by Congress last year in federal legislation.

At the long-awaited first meeting of the ITVS board of directors Oct. 17 [1989] in Washington, board members listened politely to CPB President Donald Ledwig pledge support to the new service but sharply criticized him in interviews following the session.

The corporation will provide “overhead expenses” for the ITVS, Ledwig said. “We will do more than that. We will stand behind you. Whatever else we may do, let us know. Our goal is the same as yours — the success of the ITVS,” he said.

Independent producers questioned Ledwig’s commitment, pointing to a Sept. 21 letter he wrote to Rep. Henry A. Waxman, D-Calif., about CPB’s plans to fund the ITVS.

Waxman, a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which oversees CPB, had warned in a May 11 letter to Ledwig that he would “no longer be able to justify” funding public broadcasting at levels Congress has authorized if CPB does not make progress in negotiations to establish the fund.

In his letter to Waxman, Ledwig wrote, “In carrying out Congress’ intent to establish an independent production service, CPB believes that it is both necessary and prudent to provide coverage for initial expenses due to overhead and promotion,” according to a copy of the letter provided by Lawrence Sapadin, executive director of the Association of Independent Video and Filmmakers.

Ledwig wrote that he is “concerned” about an “interpretation of the law that CPB is legally obligated to provide continuing overhead and promotional costs. This view is not supported by the statute or any of the legislative history and is inconsistent with the views of others who were also involved closely in the legislation process.”

Neither the Public Telecommunications Act of 1988, which directed CPB to provide the $6 million, nor the background of the law “describes a specific obligation for the CPB to provide funds for those expenses for any given period of time, perhaps because Congress, in fact, did not believe that a separate allocation for overhead and promotion would be necessary for an ITVS,” Ledwig wrote.

“Furthermore, to establish a legal obligation for CPB to provide these expenses continually would be to establish an entitlement for the ITVS to receive these funds regardless of how the service might evolve or whether these costs could be provided by another source,” Ledwig wrote.

In a press statement Oct. 19, Ledwig said CPB plans to “voluntarily provide necessary overhead and promotions costs” to the ITVS.

Independent producers react

If they do what they said they would do [at the meeting], it would be settled,” said Laurence Hall, a member of the Association of California Independent Public Television Producers and a participant in negotiations. “My problem is that we frequently have had them say they’ll do something and then they don’t do it. We’ve had about nine months on-again, off-again on these issues,” he said.

“In a nutshell, that was a very heavily negotiated issue,” Sapadin said, referring to administration costs. “CPB surprised us, taking this strained legal position that they have no legal obligation that by statute they are required to fund the service,” he said.

Ledwig’s letter “goes back on their agreement, very simply. The threat they make to cease to provide support goes to the heart of the service,” Sapadin said, adding that the ITVS “exists to be a laboratory and it can’t be supported by other sources. The service will have to rely on CPB support. The suggestion that that might change suggests hostility and a misunderstanding of the ITVS,” he said.

“The agreement says very simply they will provide support,” Sapadin said. “The subsequent letter from Ledwig reneges on that. It raises the possibility of termination of that support, which runs contrary to the agreement signed by all the parties.”

Hall, CPB Congressional liaison Gerald Hogan, CPB Deputy General Counsel Sylvia Winik and a member of Waxman’s staff who asked not to be identified met Oct. 20 “to try to work this through,” said Waxman’s representative. “CPB wasn’t trying to scuttle what was worked out with the independents. Our talks did not revolve around whether or not CPB will pay, but what a clarification letter should say.”

“I think everything is OK now. Everything is intact,” the staff member said.

Sapadin didn’t agree. “My understanding is that the parties are working to come up with a solution. I don’t think the problem is resolved. My best understanding is that it is not acceptable for Ledwig’s letter to stand as the last word. The parties are going to be working on the issue, before the next meeting of the ITVS board,” he said.

“CPB’s commitment is to provide reasonable and necessary support,” CPB spokeswoman Mary Maguire said. ITVS officials must submit a budget to the CPB board of directors, she said, adding that the spending plan will be “reviewed as we review our regular budget process. … They have to develop their budget and submit their budget. We’re not going to make them do any work justifying their expenses the rest of the corporation is not expected to do,” she said.

The budget procedure is outlined in an agreement between the two parties titled “Results of Discussions Between the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the National Coalition of Independent Public Broadcasting Producers Regarding the Independent Television Service Inc.” that Sapadin made available. In the document, signed by 11 representatives of the two sides in late September, CPB accepted a budget of $93,000 for the ITVS for July 1 to Dec. 31.

Funding for the ITVS will come from CPB’s administrative budget, which was capped by Congress at $10.2 million for this year, Maguire said, adding that Congress permitted annual increases of 4 percent or an amount equal to the Consumer Price Index, whichever is greater.

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