Two top managers at Alabama Public Television were fired from their jobs June 12 with no explanation of the cause for the immediate dismissals.
The Alabama Educational Television Commission came out of an executive session Tuesday afternoon and ordered veteran pubcaster Allan Pizzato and his deputy Pauline Howland to clean out their desks and leave APT’s headquarters in Birmingham.
“All I can say is that it was an irreconcilable difference in opinion of the future direction of the station,” Pizzato told Current. “I serve at the pleasure of the board. They want to take it in a different direction, and that’s up to them.”
Pizzato had served 12 years as executive director of APT, a statewide network governed by a board of seven political appointees.
Howland, deputy director and chief financial officer, described the firings in an interview with Current and said she was "baffled" by the dismissals. But she also recalled how Pizzato had asked staff in April for advice about a series of videos that AETC commissioners wanted APT to air.
The videos featured David Barton, an evangelical minister and conservative activist whose publications and media appearances promote his theories about the religious intentions of America’s founders. He frequently appears on political commentary programs hosted by conservative Glenn Beck.
The American Heritage Series, a 10-part DVD series offered by Barton’s Texas-based organization WallBuilders LLC, “presents America's forgotten history and heroes, emphasizing the moral, religious and constitutional foundation on which America was built.” Christian broadcast networks Cornerstone Television and Trinity Broadcasting Networks air the series, according to the website.
AETC Commissioner Rodney Herring, an Opelika-based chiropractor, had provided the series to APT for broadcast consideration. Herring joined the commission last year and was elected board secretary in January. As of late Wednesday evening, Herring did not return a voice message from Current.
AETC commissioners serve staggered 10-year terms, a provision that was intended to protect the state network from political meddling, said former APT director Skip Hinton, who now heads the National Educational Telecommunications Association. Each commissioner represents one of Alabama’s seven congressional districts. Alabama’s governor nominates commissioners and the state Senate approves the appointments.
Herring was appointed by former Gov. Bob Riley, a Republican, in early 2011, according to Howland.
She participated in the staff review of Barton’s series. The programs “talked about how our government forefathers were very religious men,” Howland said, “how the country was founded on religious principles, and how we need to go back to that.” The content “was very much advocating that position,” she said.
Pizzato and his staff had “grave concerns” that the videos were inappropriate for public broadcasting due to their religious nature, Howland said.
Pizzato declined to discuss the videos, or how he responded to the commission’s request that APT schedule them for broadcast.
The commissioners had planned to discuss broadcast of Barton’s series at the end of their meeting, but dropped the agenda item after firing both directors, Howland said.
“It’s our job to protect the license,” Howland said, “and provide the best advice we can to the commission, whose members are usually not broadcasters.”
APT is among the public TV networks that have taken big hits in state funding during the recession. Its state appropriation has dropped 50 percent since 2008. Last summer APT shut its state capital bureau, suspended production of its political roundtable, Capitol Journal, and laid off 19 staffers. APT also scaled back operations at its Huntsville station and ended production of its music series, We Have Signal. A revamped Capitol Journal returned in January 2012. — Dru Sefton
UPDATE: For Current's full story behind the Alabama terminations, posted June 24, click here.