Twentieth Century Fund Task Force on Public Broadcasting

Summary of Recommendations, July 1993

These are the recommendations of the Twentieth Century Fund Task Force on Public Television, released in the July 1993 report Quality Time? The complete 188-page paperback, including a background paper by Richard Somerset-Ward, published by the Twentieth Century Fund Press, is available for $9.95 through the Brookings Institution (1-800-275-1447). See also [Current coverage and list of task force members, Aug. 9, 1993.

On mission

  • The mission of public television should be the enrichment and strengthening of American society and culture through high-quality programming that reflects and advances our basic values. In order to fulfill its mission, America’s system of public television needs fundamental structural change.
  • Sources of programming should be diversified. The Task Force has noted that more than 60 percent of national programming is produced by three large public television stations. In order to attract the nation’s best creative talent, the Task Force recommends that public television widely publicize its program priorities so that all talented producers are encouraged to compete for national program funds. Public television should offer an expanded venue for the experimentation and imaginative breakthroughs that have characterized its greatest moments.
  • Editorial balance and objectivity are requirements, but the system should be flexible enough to require them over a period of time, rather than within every individual program. Otherwise there is no way in which public television can be anything except bland, unexciting, undemanding, and unintelligent — all of the things it was designed not to be.
  • The mission of each local station must be defined within its own community, and must be supportable (in terms of funds and resources) by that community, or by institutions within it. The only exceptions should be those few communities where poverty or geographical remoteness make additional federal support desirable and necessary.
  • Public service should be central to the mission of all local stations, whether they have a statewide mandate, a community orientation, or a specifically educational function. Public access and a role in participatory democracy should be among their principal activities.
  • Overlapping stations must define distinctive missions. As a general principle, overlapping stations should not duplicate schedules.

On education

  • Educational programming must be expanded. Furthermore, public television’s educational and instructional efforts must be adequately financed to ensure that they continue to provide an essential alternative to commercial efforts in these areas.
  • The delivery and dissemination of instructional programming must be upgraded. To remain competitive with commercial programming for schools, public television must go beyond the old technique of over-the-air broadcast of educational materials to make greater use of videocassettes and new interactive technologies.
  • Commercialization of public television’s educational programming must be resisted. For example, the promotion of toys as premiums to children during on-air pledge drives is not an appropriate activity for public television.
  • Public television’s preschool programming must be sustained and developed further. This segment of programming, unique in our educational process, must remain a central feature of the national program service.
  • The national program service should develop new programs for six- to eleven-year-olds, a group currently underserved by public television’s existing programs.
  • The practical training of teachers in the classroom uses of television and other technologies should be expanded nationwide.
  • Public television’s educational programs should emphasize lifelong learning. The expansion of adult education services should be given a high priority, particularly in plans for the use of PBS’s new satellite capacity. Literacy and job retraining should be two of the principal target areas, with college credit courses and expanded GED courses not far behind.

On funding

  • Federal funding of the operations of local stations should be eliminated and the resources earmarked for national programs. The use of federal money to make Community Service Grants to local stations should be phased out within two to three years, with a very few exceptions in cases where the CPB determines that communities are too poor or too remote to support their own stations.
  • Individual station operations should be supported by the communities they serve. Local stations must identify the needs of their communities and raise the funds necessary for their operations from within their region. In addition to customary on-air fundraising, stations should develop more off-air methods.
  • Federal funding should be increased to enable public television to provide a high-quality, national alternative to commercial broadcasting, provided the above recommendations are adopted. Federal funding should be authorized on a multiyear basis (as much as five years in advance).
  • Ideally, national funding of public television should come from new nontaxpayer sources of funding such as possible spectrum auctions or spectrum usage fees. In the event that either a spectrum auction provision or a spectrum usage fee is approved by the Congress, a portion of the proceeds should be used for the funding of public telecommunications.
  • Corporate underwriting of programs should continue, with strict observance of the existing PBS guidelines for the crediting of corporate contributions. At the same time, by increasing the total amount of money available for national programming, public television should strive to reduce the percentage of the national program budget for which corporate underwriting is responsible (currently 30 percent).

On governance

  • The selection process for the CPB Board should be improved. The Board of the CPB should be appointed on a nonpolitical and nonpartisan basis in order to increase public broadcasting’s insulation from political pressures, both now and in the future. The president of the United States should select a nonpartisan committee of outstanding individuals to recommend qualified candidates for vacant seats on the Board.
  • While allocating most of its television funds automatically to national programming, the CPB should hold sufficient reserves to look after the special requirements of poor or remote areas where there is a particular need for public television but where it cannot support itself. The CPB must also retain sufficient funds to fulfill its two most vital roles: oversight and leadership.
  • In its efforts to promote balance in public television programming, the CPB Board should exercise its oversight authority with an eye to balance throughout the schedule, and avoid requiring balance within each and every individual program.
  • In any discussions of the CPB’s future role in the administration of overseas U.S. broadcasting operations, the prime consideration must be the CPB’s complete and demonstrable independence from government.
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