"What we want [the consultant] to do is take
a clean sheet of paper and give us
clean, fresh recommendations."--Joseph Traigle
Both PBS and APTS launch studies
for reform of public TV governance
Excerpted from Current, Oct. 23, 1995
The lobbying and planning group America's Public Television Stations will hire a consultant in February to propose a new decision-making structure for the unruly and factionalized field of public broadcasting. The changes may be proposed for consideration in a "constitutional convention" many months from now.
And PBS--moving on a parallel track--is inititating discussions on its governance and strategic planning with a core group of former and present board members. Talks will expand outward in "concentric circles" to include stations, lay leaders, the business community and policymakers, PBS Chairman Gerald Baliles told the network's Executive Committee Oct. 20.
The initial PBS group, to be chaired by Rob Gardiner of Maine Public Broadcasting, will review the "core issues" and information on which governance talks will be based, Baliles said in the committee meeting.
In an Oct. 20 letter to stations, Baliles said the PBS and APTS governance studies deal with different sets of concerns. Unlike the PBS initiative, the APTS review is "not centrally concerned with the relationship between PBS and its member stations, or with the very difficult financial and business issues" at the heart of PBS's governance problems. To avoid the "dangers of overlap and duplication that plague our system," Baliles said he invited Joseph Traigle, a leader of APTS's review, to participate in PBS's as well.
Board leaders of both PBS and APTS say public TV's unruly ways are frustrating and may become a fatal handicap during tougher times ahead.
PBS and some of its member stations have been locked in angry struggles this year over the authority of the network--backed by most stations, according to PBS--to require "common carriage" of selected PBS programs on certain days and to impose standard restrictions on commercialism in underwriting announcements.
"We cannot do business the same old way and expect to survive," says APTS Board member Elsie Garner, station manager of WEDU in Tampa. "The major monster that's lurking out there is the change of the industry. We've got Advanced Television coming up fast, and we've got the loss of federal funding."
In this precarious setting, public broadcasting lacks "a unified voice and image" when it speaks to legislators, funders and the public and has no method of considering all views and developing an official "industry position," the APTS Board said in a memo to stations. The field also has "a national organization landscape that is difficult to understand and cumbersome to manage."
"Flabbergasted" by factions
APTS trustees decided to launch the planning process during their Sept. 18 meeting in San Antonio, midway through a legislative season in which some trustees and station members had lobbied Congress for the right to carry advertising, contrary to the official APTS position.
Leaders say the split did not lead directly to the restructuring initiative, but that it was an example of public conflicts that are out of hand.
"A number of congressmen, one senator in particular, commented to me about three months ago that he was flabbergasted at the amount of disorganization and differing data and information and positions that public broadcasting had going out on the Hill," says Traigle, a Baton Rouge businessman and former chairman of Louisiana Public Broadcasting, who chairs the APTS committee drafting a request for proposals for the study.
After the consulting firm is hired in February, it will interview widely, send questionnaires to all stations, seek comments in writing and on videotape, and deliver a set of options for restructuring, according to APTS memos. Stations may want to hold a constitutional convention to evaluate the recommendations and settle on a process for future decision-making, wrote APTS Chairman George Miles and Traigle in a message to the system Oct. 13.
"Every aspect of the current structure will go on the table, including APTS," says Traigle. "What we want [the consultant] to do is take a clean sheet of paper and give us clean, fresh recommendations."
The study will be tightly focused on the mechanical aspects of decision-making, says David Brugger, president of APTS. "It's 'how do we reach a decision?' The consultant will look at decision-making processes developed in comparable industries that have outposts across the land and that operate under government regulation. "We don't want to reinvent the wheel, if there is a wheel out there."
PBS Chairman Baliles outlines reevaluation of network's governance
Baliles described plans for a reevaluation of PBS's decision-making processes in this letter to public broadcasters Oct. 20, 1995.
At a meeting of the PBS Executive Committee today, we moved forward with the PBS governance reform effort that I pledged to you in June. I'm writing to update you on that process and to set the context for our work in the coming weeks.
As you may remember, in June at the PBS Planning Meeting in Washington I said that I would set in motion by this fall a process for re-examining the governance of PBS. Our June meeting, as many of you will recall, was designed to stimulate debate and reflection on the future of PBS and public television. It included wide-ranging and occasionally sharp discussions of the rules and policies by which PBS member stations have agreed to be governed. While the meeting produced no definitive conclusions, it underscored for many of us the need to put PBS on a path toward new governance and business models--and to do so promptly--if we are to secure this institution's future.
Since becoming the PBS Board Chairman more than two years ago, I have said on many occasions that we need to find a new consensus for moving PBS and its member stations forward as a system. Our assets are numerous, and our value to the American people is considerable. As a collective, however, we are plagued by years-old arguments that have never been resolved. We are wary, at best, about our own governance system. Even the principle of majority rule is not well-established within the membership; as a result, it would appear that some members assert the right of individual veto over even an overwhelming consensus of their colleagues. Clearly, we have not yet answered all of the questions that prevent us from aligning our resources and our talents toward a new future. These are some of the reasons that I suggested in June a re-examination of our governing structure.
PBS and its member stations, of course, do not exist in a vacuum. We live and work in a telecommunications industry that is being rocked with profound changes on almost a weekly basis. We are seeing the formation of vast television, entertainment and education conglomerates--entities that are rich in capital, deep in content, awash in distribution and hungry to find new markets.
Consider, for example, what has happened in just the three months since we met in Washington:
- the Disney-Capital Cities/ABC merger
- the Time Warner-Turner merger
- the Westinghouse/CBS merger
- the launch of several major education initiatives, including the acquisition by TCI of the Career Tracks adult learning program for $60 million
- the establishment by Michael Milken of an investment fund of hundreds of millions of dollars to explore lifelong learning as a business
- Microsoft's experimentation in Canada with business and adult learning on demand
- the expansion of Broderbund and other software companies into the "at home learning" market.
At the same time, the American people have repeatedly and resoundingly affirmed their view of PBS as an institution of value and quality. Poll after poll taken during recent Congressional debates about our future showed that 80 to 90 percent of all Americans want PBS to survive and to grow. In August, furthermore, Advertising Age released poll results showing that PBS was second only to Disney--and a close second at that--as a media "brand" that would be highly attractive to business partners in this exploding era of telecommunications. The recent change in Congress about future funding for public broadcasting must be seen in part as a response to this tidal wave of support for PBS and its member stations.
How do these developments affect our own debate about PBS's governance? In my judgment, they underscore the need for a process with both an internal and external perspective. Enormous opportunities are presenting themselves for PBS and its membership. Our response must be to seize those opportunities. We must align our assets through reforms in both governance and business strategy. We also must guard against being so introspective in tackling governance that we miss this critical chance to leverage the economic possibilities of this era.
We know that business and financial issues, furthermore, are among the central causes of the historic anxieties and tensions related to governance. Your stations are under constant financial pressure. You want PBS, as your membership organization, to use your money wisely. How PBS is governed, and how financial decisions are made, are inescapably linked.
After our June meeting, PBS's management and I set in motion a process that combines both governance reform and strategic business planning. This effort is operating concentrically. It began with management's launch of an intensive business and strategic planning effort. It expanded in mid-summer with the addition of professional planning support. Our lead counsel in that effort is the Information and Communications Strategy Consulting division of KPMG Peat Marwick in both Washington and Los Angeles. It continued with a PBS management retreat in mid-September.
The next phase, which I launched today, will expand our efforts in steadily widening circles. First, we have established a core group of both professional and lay members or former members of the PBS board to lead the governance planning effort. Rob Gardiner of Maine Public Broadcasting will chair this group. Other members will include Hope Green of Vermont ETV, Fred Esplin of KUED, Salt Lake City, lay directors Milton Wilkins of the Monsanto Company, Sonia Perez of SBC Corp., and former board member Sharon Percy Rockefeller of WETA Washington. They will immediately begin to review and approve the identified issues and assembled facts related to this project.
Once this group's initial work is complete, we will expand the process outward to station general managers, to lay leaders and, finally, to business leaders and policy experts who share our commitment to secure our future. We would expect this expansion phase to begin after the PBS Board Retreat in late January. Our objective will be to fashion proposals for both business strategies for PBS and governance reforms that naturally flow from those new strategies. By acknowledging that our future involves both of these important elements, I believe that we can accelerate the process of repositioning PBS and its membership for the future.
In the meantime, as many of you may know, APTS has announced within the last few days the formation of a steering committee to examine what APTS also describes as governance issues. The APTS process, as we understand it, is aimed at examining the process by which national public broadcasting entities and regional organizations such as PMN, SECA, CEN and others decide upon and communicate positions of various issues of interest. This is a worthy effort, but one not centrally concerned with the relationship between PBS and its member stations, or with the very difficult financial and business issues that are at the heart of most governance issues at PBS. In my view, however, the fact that we' re engaged in parallel efforts tends to bring into focus the dangers of duplication and overlap that plague our system, and the need for greater coherence in how public broadcasting operates as an institution. I have therefore invited Joe Traigle, who is chairing the APTS process, to work with us so that we don't duplicate efforts.
Our process, which has been under way for several months, has been designed to move with deliberate speed. Any reforms we put in place must be debated, decided and implemented promptly. The challenges of the future, and the opportunities we have before us, are too great to permit delay.
As a "citizen volunteer" who believes in the power and potential of public television, please know how much I admire and respect all that you, our station members, have accomplished in recent months. Your hard work, and your commitment to the values that embody public broadcasting, have won over the American people and secured our immediate financial and politic al future. Now we must begin the even more difficult work of mastering our long-term future. That will require some changes in how the system governs itself. I will be calling upon many of you to help in that process, and I'm grateful to you.
Gerald L. Baliles
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Later news: Changes in the PBS Board, proposed in 1996, will include rebalancing, giving more votes to station managers and fewer to "lay" members.
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