25. PUBLIC LOSES BROADCASTING SYSTEM -- PBS GOES COMMERCIAL

Since 1961, the American taxpayer has spent more than $2.3 billion for the development of a public broadcasting system that would provide a non-commercial educational and community television resource. Hundreds of millions more were contributed by individuals to local PBS stations for the same goal.

But, in 1980, that system was quietly being converted from a public service into a profit-making operation and the taxpayers weren't told it was happening.

Across the board, the top dozen public television stations, all "community" type licensees, were seeking to exempt themselves from government and community accountability and turning the concept of public broadcasting into a commercial scheme of money-making and profit.

While the wealthiest public stations were accepting membership donations and government money on the pretext of non-commercial broadcasting "in the public interest," at the same time, in closed door meetings, in violation of state and federal law, they were diverting public tax dollars into profit-oriented schemes. These schemes include ventures into advertising, publishing, syndication of commercial programs, pay-TV, and leasing facilities and high technology hardware for commercial productions.

Not only are these ventures contradictory to the concept of public broadcasting, and in violation of the conditions under which the licenses were granted, they compromise the executives of public television in a potential conflict of interest.

Like the commercial networks, these stations pursue big-money sponsors and seek mass audiences and ratings. In return, they offer safe upscale programming. News and public affairs programs are being eliminated and minority viewpoints for their communities totally neglected.

The stations plead a lack of funds which they say must be supplemented from private sources. The reality appears that they seek the autonomy that these sources provide. Their ultimate goal is independence from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting which regulates them, the communities they are licensed to serve, and the public that has paid for them.

The eighth "best censored" story of 1979 revealed how the Public Broadcasting Service had become the handmaiden of major oil corporations and how controversial subjects increasingly were being censored on PBS. Now the failure of the media to inform the public that it is losing the public broadcasting system it already has paid for qualifies this story for nomination as one of the "best censored" stories of 1980.

SOURCES:

In These Times, Dec. 17-23, 1980, "The new business of PBS is business," by Pat Aufderheide; Committee to SAVE KQED news release, Nov. 10, 1980, and other correspondence.