Wingspread Conference Statement of Principles on Editorial Integrity in the Program Process for State Licensees of Public Broadcasting Stations, 1984

This statement came out of the Wingspread Conference on Editorial Integrity in Public Broadcasting, held Nov. 28-30, 1984, and was later endorsed by PBS and the National Association of Public Television Stations. The statement was later published in proceedings of the conference, Editorial Integrity in Public Broadcasting, published by the Southern Educational Communications Association (SECA, predecessor of NETA), which facilitated the conference. See also Executive Summary of the report, also on this page.

Draft Statement

In order to guide us in discharging our public responsibilities and to explain the basic premises of our enterprise, we as members of boards of governance of public broadcast operations adopt the following five basic principles:

1. Many of our responsibilities are grounded in constitutional or statutory law.

Public broadcasting is subject to a variety of legal requirements and restrictions, to which we as trustees must see that our stations adhere. Chief among these is the requirement that, as licensees of the Federal Communications Commission, we operate in the constitutionally protected area of public speech, according to the terms of the Communications Act of 1934, the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967, and other applicable statutes. We might also have other legal requirements and responsibilities as creatures of state or local government, or of educational institutions or as managers of legally defined non-profit organizations, or as required in providing our services to the public.

2. We are trustees of a public service.

Public broadcasting was created to provide, free of the inevitable pressures and problems of commercial broadcasting, a wide range of services which can enlighten and entertain the American public which is its audience. We are responsible for maintaining these services at a high level of quality and responsiveness.

3. Our service is programming.

Public broadcasting can be justified only in terms of the programming it can develop, acquire or produce and deliver to its audiences. All other activities of public broadcasting are finally merely efforts to ensure that the American public is offered a consistent range of good program choices delivered over their public broadcasting outlets.

4. Credibility is the currency of our programming.

To maintain a credible public service programming effort, we must assure its credibility by:

  • a. Developing and implementing a policy by which programming can be planned, developed, produced and promoted in ways which meet the needs and stimulate the interest of our audiences.
  • b. Assuring that this policy, once in place, can be implemented free from undue external pressures, whether from political, financial or other sources, and
  • c. Assuring that this policy, once in place, bases programming on its value in the marketplace of ideas and not on financial considerations or pressures.

5. We have a fiduciary responsibility.

We must manage our affairs in public broadcasting so as to assure our public and private supporters and our audiences that efficiency and effectiveness result from the investment in us of their time and resources.

Executive Summary

The history of public broadcasting licensees, especially those which are also state government entities, shows that they have unclear First Amendment rights. Their legal position, the diversity of licensee types and governing structures, and the diversity of funding sources including the government, all combine to make these licensees particularly vulnerable to external pressures and intrusions into their independent exercise of editorial discretion.

Lay board members and professional managers convened at the Wingspread Conference on Editorial Integrity in Public Broadcasting to explore the implications of the legal decisions, and to discuss public policies and practices which, while honoring the suggestions and reactions of all members of the general public, would help to guarantee public broadcasting’s editorial integrity in the future.

Participants discussed past and potential problems of intrusion in or undue influence on editorial decision-making with the aid of attorneys, journalists, and communications authorities. They examined various methods of program decision-making and the effects of licensee structures on these decisions, arriving at a consensus onseveral points:

  • Editorial integrity in public broadcasting programming is the responsible application by professional practitioners of a free and independent decision-making process which is ultimately accountable to the needs and interests of a well-informed citizenry.
  • The issue of editorial integrity in public broadcasting is one of public policy.
  • The issue is significant for all public broadcasting entities, national as well as local stations.
  • Boards and commissions are the key to insulating public broadcasting’s editorial decision-making process from undue influence.
  • Undue influence is any influence that leaves the person normally and regularly responsible for programming decisions no alternative.
  • The functions of the board/commission and the professional management of a public broadcasting organization and the relationships between them should be clearly defined and understood by both parties.

The participants also agreed that a code or statement of principles to strengthen public broadcasting’s editorial integrity should be written. They recommended that the code be applicable industry-wide if at all possible, and they called for a clear statement of the division of responsibilities between public broadcasting licensee boards and station chief executive officers.

Conferees agreed that the code should be based on the following principles:

1. Public broadcasting responsibilities are grounded in constitutional and statutory law.

2. Because public broadcasting is a public service, it should be responsive to diverse public views and opinions.

3. Public broadcasting can be justified only by offering a consistent range of good program choices.

4. Public broadcasting must assure credible public service programming by:

  • a. Creating programming which meets the needs and stimulates the interest of the audience;
  • b. Ensuring that programming will be free of undue external influences from all sources;
  • c. Basing programs on their value in the marketplace of ideas, not on financial considerations or pressure.

5. Public broadcasting must conduct its financial affairs in order to assure its supporters and its audiences that their time and resources are used efficiently and effectively

Conference participants elected an eight-member group, composed half of lay members of governing boards and half of professional executive station directors, to carry forward the participants’ consensus into a draft code or set of principles to guide public broadcasting licensees and their boards. The group will seek comment and endorsement of all interested bodies and citizens concerned with safeguarding public broadcasting’s editorial integrity.

Scanned from the booklet “Editorial Integrity in Public Broadcasting: Proceedings of the Wingspread Conference,” Southern Educational Communications Association.

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