Public Media Policybase

Minority consortia to PBS: PubTV’s ‘stunning lack of diversity’ allowed the Burns flap to occur

Public broadcasting’s five CPB-funded minority consortia sent this letter to PBS President Paula Kerger on April 9, 2007.

Dear Paula:

I’m writing to you on behalf of my colleagues of the National Minority Consortia (NMC), which, along with the National Black Programming Consortium, includes the Center for Asian American Media, Latino Public Broadcasting, Native American Public Telecommunications and Pacific Islanders in Communications. We would like to offer our support to you in helping to address in a positive manner what we view as legitimate community concerns over the omission of Latino voices from Ken Burns’ The War.

It is not the idea of an intentional exclusion that raises the flag of indignation from the American public – and not only, as has been suggested, Hispanic Americans. It is the idea that the perspective of those within the public broadcasting system empowered to make decisions about what is and is not appropriate for a public television event of this magnitude do not fundamentally represent the diversity of this society. If they did, this omission would have never occurred. It is really that simple.

Paula, we know and applaud your efforts to diversify PBS at every level and have been happy to participate in numerous conversations with various departments there. And, in that vein, perhaps the most meaningful outcome that could emerge from the current, unfortunate situation is to be able to announce that PBS will bring different perspectives to bear, in an institutional, systematic way, in deciding what goes on the prime time schedule that so defines us in the minds of the viewers and the public. This, in our view, will speak volumes more than any of the other possible “solutions” that have been proposed. The mea culpa that is required now has less to do with Ken Burns than it does the stunningly lack of diversity we experienced in Orlando last year and that we will no doubt see again in Dallas.

The most unfortunate thing right now would be, we feel, to simply respond in a way that further marginalizes the larger concerns raised by the War by placing meaningless band-aids here and there. I think we all know that this about a more profound sense of exclusion and invisibility than one group or one film represents and we should all keep that in mind as we search for a way forward. It is our sincere hope that is the understanding that will guide all of us who care about public television to expand, embrace and explore a broader, truly inclusive definition of the public we seek to serve.

All of this having been said, rest assured that we will support you in our communities if the goal we share is a twenty-first century vision of what a robust public media could look like and could accomplish. In our view, this would include a diversity of both programming and programming staff that mirrors that in our society and would allow prime time real estate to be used to cultivate new audiences and not simply cater to those who have supported PBS in the past.

While we know that all of these things are easier said than done, still, they must be done. We know that the statistics are real. We are approaching a time when there will be no majority in this country and how then will we weight whose experiences are “universal”. The time is now to start imagining something that could be visionary and that could signal to the rest of the world as well as the rest of this nation what being an American is really about these days. We in the NMC are more than happy to meet with you and John Boland at any time to help you shape relationships with all of our communities to take this agenda forward and will stand together with you in making this moment matter.

Sincerely,

Jacquie Jones
Executive Director, National Black Programming Consortium
Chair, National Minority Consortia

cc: Stephen Gong, CAAM; Luis Ortiz, LPB; Shirley Sneve, NAPT; Ruth Bolan, PIC

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