The original six members of the Core Working Group speak at the APTS annual meeting in April [1997]. (It's a montage of snapshots--all of them aren't really talking at the same time.) Left to right are Mike Hardgrove of KETC (St. Louis), Dennis Haarsager of KWSU (Pullman, Wash.), Mark Erstling (WPSX, University Park, Pa.), Ginni Fox (Kentucky ETV), Jim Pagliarini (KNPB, Reno) and Al Jerome (KCET, Los Angeles).

With molten issues bubbling, governance panel starts work

Originally published in Current, April 28, 1997

By Steve Behrens

The exchange between Los Angeles and Kansas City was "a pretty good example of how a productive conversation can begin," commented management consultant Eric Douglas of BMR Associates.

Flash back three days earlier, when more than 30 public TV managers put out a statement opposing 30-second underwriting credits.

Dissolve to the annual meeting of America's Public Television Stations, where Douglas was introducing the six public TV managers on the new Core Working Group, who are trying to invent a way for their field to make binding national decisions. First to speak was Al Jerome, president of KCET, Los Angeles.

Jerome wanted to create a governance process that will let public TV operate like "one large affinity group." And he objected to the statement against 30-second spots: "I don't think the process was well served, especially on the eve of Capitol Hill Day."

This burned Bill Reed, president of KCPT, Kansas City, who signed the statement. He asserted a few minutes later that Jerome took "a cheap shot."

And Jerome soon replied that he was glad Reed brought up an "undiscussable" issue. He hoped the APTS governance process will bring up others and find a way to resolve them.

The undiscussables--issues that are seldom debated among opponents committed to resolving them--were agitating for attention even as the Core Working Group began its deliberations.

The group is about governance, not 30-second spots. "We're not going to resolve any of the hot issues, but design a process to do that," said member Jim Pagliariani, g.m. of KNPB, Reno, during the group's first meeting the next day.

The APTS Board officially launched CWG, giving it "day-to-day" authority over the governance project and dealings with the BMR consultants. This week, CWG will seek suggestions to expand its size to 12 or 15. Within weeks it will issue a draft "Case for Change" that explains why public TV needs to improve its governance process. And this fall, after extensive polling and talking, CWG expects to call a national convention to vote on its proposal.

Along the way, CWG will indeed test out its methods on some real controversies, to see if it works. The hot ones, underwriting rules and overlapping signals, will be so tough, CWG member Dennis Haarsager told his cohorts--couldn't they start with something fun?

Unhappy campers

In the absence of a forum for decision-making, pubcasters have tried other ways of influencing policy.

CWG member Mike Hardgrove, president of KETC, referred to his involvement in the Earned Income Initiatives Group, which lobbied House leaders to loosen anticommercial rules on pubcasters.

"A year ago there were some unhappy campers here, I admit to being one of them," Hardgrove said in the APTS session. "APTS didn't seem interested in dealing with the issues." Since then, APTS has "done a 180."

As for the anticommercial team, its statement against 30-second spots was a reaction to activities of the Earned Income group, said Fred Esplin, g.m. of KUED, Salt Lake City, in an interview.

The statement had its origins at the PBS Board's February retreat in Phoenix, where Hardgrove argued that PBS should begin accepting 30-second underwriting credits, according to Esplin. This concerned board members who want to hold the line on commercialism, including Esplin and Tom Howe, head of the University of North Carolina's state network.

Starting with a draft by Esplin, these station managers put together and circulated the statement. They also endorsed and attached a supplementary statement listing "Six Practical Considerations" about 30-second spots, prepared by WGBH executive Lance Ozier, says Esplin. Thirty-four licensees had signed the statement by the time it was released April 10 and four more have since signed it.

They wanted it known "that there is another point of view," said Esplin. "The earned income group had been off and running on this issue for well over a year."

Who pays the airlines?

The core of the Core Working Group--which includes Kentucky's Virginia Fox and Penn State's Mark Erstling, as well as Jerome, Hardgrove, Pagliarini and Haarsager--dealt with logistics during its first face-to-face meeting in the Omni Shoreham Hotel's Mikhail Gorbachev Suite, April 14. It plans to hold telephone conferences on Friday afternoons and has set its next in-person meeting, May 27-28 in Tucson. The meetings will be open to observers.

One practical task will be to raise funds for the group members' travel to meetings. The APTS contract for BMR's two-year project, priced at about $500,000, does not include the travel funds, estimated to come to about $50,000, according to Douglas. (Tight budgets are an "APTS m.o.," said Fox.) The six group members discussed seeking the funds from CPB, foundations and stations, but decided to delay its own pledge drive until they're further along in their work.



To Current's home page

Current Briefing on the governance of public television.

Later news: APTS's Core Working Group sets date for a convention of stations in Austin, Tex., November 1997.


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