Public Media Policybase

Public radio (unofficially) asks CPB to serve as political firewall, May 2005

Public radio station representatives endorsed this resolution by voice vote during NPR’s annual Members Meeting of stations, May 3, 2005. The meeting lacked the quorum necessary to adopt a proposed official resolution. The proposal, offered by Tim Emmons, g.m. of Northern Public Radio in DeKalb, Ill., responded to recent news coverage about CPB activities promoting conservative programming on public TV.

Whereas it is the statutory and historical role of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) to serve as a firewall between partisan politics and public broadcasting; and

Whereas the Public Broadcasting Act specifically directs CPB to act “in ways that will most effectively assure the maximum freedom of the public telecommunications entities and systems from interference with, or control of, program content or other activities”; and

Whereas CPB has in the past respected the First Amendment rights of broadcasters and deferred to the professional judgments of journalists; and

Whereas the Public Broadcasting Act requires CPB to distribute program funds by grant rather than by contract specifically to limit CPB interference in the editorial decision-making process of public broadcasting program producers and stations; and

Whereas the Public Broadcasting Act requires CPB to create and annually update a plan for the development of public telecommunications services and consult with interested parties when so doing; and

Whereas CPB has recently dismissed its President and CEO under uncertain conditions; and

Whereas the CPB board recently appointed two ombudsmen without consulting with the public broadcasting system, raising legitimate concerns of an institutionalized process for potential interference in content, and

Whereas, such a process within a funding agency is fundamentally inconsistent with the principles of ombudsmen in reference to news organizations;

It is therefore resolved that:

  1. CPB should follow statutory requirements and do nothing to diminish the firewall between the Federal funds appropriated by the Congress and the public broadcast programming it funds; and
  2. CPB should follow statutory requirements and refrain from interfering in constitutionally protected content decisions; and
  3. CPB should follow statutory requirements and, before making changes in funding priorities, should engage in a system-wide consultation about the priorities of public radio and defer to the reasonable and legitimate choices of broadcast professionals to build services of value within the local communities they serve.

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