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CPB reform proposals by citizen groups after Tomlinson affair

Press release Nov. 15, 2005, from activist organizations Free Press, Center for Digital Democracy and Common Cause. Related Current article.

Groups call for new leadership at CPB after report reveals ethical violations and 'political tests' in hiring

Inspector General's report illustrates why Congress must implement sweeping reforms to ensure the health and independence of PBS, NPR and other public media

WASHINGTON — Free Press, the Center for Digital Democracy and Common Cause called on Corporation for Public Broadcasting President Patricia Harrison to resign following the long-awaited release of an Inspector General's report, which exposes extensive wrongdoing by the leadership of the CPB. The report found that "political tests" were a "major criteria" in hiring Harrison to oversee the CPB.

The 67-page report by Inspector General Kenneth Konz, which was presented in secret to the CPB Board of Directors nearly two weeks ago, was sent to Capitol Hill today. Among its other findings:

Former CPB Chairman Kenneth Y. Tomlinson "violated his fiduciary responsibilities and statutory prohibitions against Board member involvement in programming decisions" in creating the "Journal Editorial Report."

The report criticizes the secretive hiring of Republican operative Frederick Mann to monitor "Now with Bill Moyers" and other programs without authorization from the CPB Board.

While the report concludes the violations were primarily the result of Tomlinson's "personal actions to accomplish his various initiatives," it also identifies "serious weaknesses" in the CPB's governance system.

A copy of the report is available at: http://www.cpb.org/oig/.

The groups also demanded that the CPB make public the "separate investigative report, along with specific evidence indicating possible wrongdoing," that Konz made available to the board as well as any additional documents provided to members of Congress.

"It's time to clean house at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting," said Josh Silver, executive director of Free Press. "This report shows that officials at the very top of the CPB were conspiring to conduct an extreme makeover of our public broadcasting system. Congress needs to immediately clear out the zealous partisans remaining at the CPB and institute sensible reforms that will permanently protect public broadcasting from political interference."

Tomlinson stepped down from the CPB Board on Nov. 3 upon learning of the report's findings. The remaining leadership of the CPB have close ties the Bush administration. Chairwoman Cheryl Halpern and Vice Chairwoman Gay Hart Gaines are veteran GOP operatives and mega-fundraisers, who have praised Tomlinson for "his legitimate efforts to achieve balance and objectivity in public broadcasting." Tomlinson's hand-picked choice to run the CPB, Harrison, is a former chairwoman of the Republican Party, who recently oversaw "public diplomacy" efforts at the State Department.

"The Inspector General's report documents the unnecessary and inappropriate politicization of public broadcasting," said Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy. "Through a series of covert and overt activities, the CPB board has helped undermine the foundation of public broadcasting. But Mr. Tomlinson shouldn't be singled out as the lone culprit here. All of the board is responsible, as are top CPB executives past and present. The CPB needs new leaders untarnished by this sordid episode."

In response to the Inspector General's report, Free Press, the Center for Digital Democracy and Common Cause endorsed a series of measures that would:

Require the CPB Board to be governed in a bipartisan or independent fashion, mandating that its chairman and vice chairman not represent the same political party. The board should include more members with experience in public broadcasting, including producers of independent programming.

Restore transparency to the CPB Board by requiring open discussion and public votes on all matters. Meetings should be televised and archived online to encourage greater public accountability.

Reformulate the board's position on objectivity and balance, seeking to allow programmers -- not political appointees -- to determine what the public sees and hears.

Reduce the organization's political involvement by explicitly prohibiting the CPB board and management from hiring outside political lobbyists or consultants.

"The CPB must acknowledge its mistakes and act to restore public confidence, even in the face of this damning report on Mr. Tomlinson's failures," said Common Cause President Chellie Pingree. "We renew our call today for the CPB to be more transparent and accountable by making structural changes to better serve the public interest. The board's initial steps to improve governance don't inspire a lot of confidence given the highly partisan backgrounds of Harrison, Halpern and Gaines.


Public Broadcasting PolicyBase
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Posted Nov. 21, 2005
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