Feb 23, 2012

Oscar nominee "If a Tree Falls" now streaming on P.O.V. website

The full-length Academy Award-nominated documentary If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front, which premiered on P.O.V. last year, is now streaming on the show's website through March 4. The film, exploring environmentalism and terrorism, is up for the documentary feature Oscar this Sunday (Feb. 26). It's a co-production of ITVS, directed by Marshall Curry, and won best documentary editing at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival.

Some 5.4 million viewers watched "Downton" finale, PBS says

Ratings for the Season 2 finale of Downton Abbey on Masterpiece Classic are in, and the Feb. 19 episode scored the highest numbers for a PBS program since the premiere of Ken Burns’s National Parks in September 2009. An average audience of 5.4 million viewers (a 3.5 Nielsen household rating) watched, not including those viewing through station replays, DVRs or online streaming. On the web, full episodes of Season 2 received 4.8 million views on the PBS Video Portal, an increase of more than 400 percent over Season 1. Downton content accounted for more than 9 million streams from 1.5 million unique visitors across all platforms since the Season 2 premiere on Jan. 8, and has contributed to the "highest days of traffic ever seen" on the Masterpiece website, PBS said.

This Keillor-hosted fundraiser isn't helping public radio

Prairie Home Companion host Garrison Keillor has never tried to hide his liberal political leanings, but his decision to host a private fundraiser this week for President Obama's reelection campaign has worked the conservative blogosphere into a lather about NPR's political bias.

The trouble is, NPR has no control over Keillor or his nationally syndicated weekly program. Neither does Minnesota-based American Public Media Group, which distributes Prairie Home Companion to public radio stations. Prairie Home Companion is not a news program -- it's an entertainment show -- and Keillor's own production company is responsible for its content.

"Mr. Keillor's political opinions and activities are his own, and do not reflect the views of APMG or its affiliated companies," said Bill Gray, spokesman. APM's ethical policies prohibit those who work in news and public affairs programming from participating in partisan political activities, but "Mr. Keillor is not a journalist, and thus his political opinions and activities do not have an impact on how news is presented to listeners."

NPR has spent more than a year updating its ethical standards to withstand the white-hot scrutiny that came after the firing of news analyst Juan Williams, and public radio and TV have just adopted an industry-wide code of editorial integrity, yet the field can't get around the glee that political foes will take in bashing public radio when given the opportunity.

Michigan Radio News Director Vincent Duffy sees nothing unethical with Keillor's decision to host the fundraiser, but he describes it as "a bone headed move."

Keillor "is certainly aware that most of America probably thinks he has an office down the hall from Terry Gross and the Car Talk guys," Duffy writes on his blog. "He also must be aware that a large crowd in America enjoys pointing fingers at NPR and screaming, “Liberals!” and working to cut the ever dwindling amount of public tax dollars that stations receive."

Duffy faults Keillor for failing to consider how his political activism affects the local stations that carry his program. Stations take heat from angry listeners who write or call them and, in some cases, cancel the membership donations that make it possible for them to acquire and broadcast Prairie Home Companion.

APM understands the difficulty that Keillor's activities have caused for stations, but it remains focused "solely on the programs that his production company produces for us," Gray said. "We trust that audiences clearly understand the difference between news programming and entertainment programming."

NETA, Coca-Cola Bottlers partnering on insurance for pubcasting stations

The National Educational Telecommunications Association today (Feb. 23) announced that it is offering group health insurance coverage plans to pubcasters, a project it has been working on for several years. So far, 70 licensees, both television and radio, representing nearly 2,900 individuals, are participating in the new initiative. NETA is partnering with the Coca-Cola Bottlers Association to provide the coverage, through that company's Alliance of Professional Service Organizations (APSO) subsidiary. The partnership marks "the beginning of significant savings and improved insurance coverage opportunities for those who participate," NETA President Skip Hinton said in the announcement. APSO currently serves nearly 300 employers, including the majority of the soft-drink bottlers and more than 200 others, representing nearly 25,000 individuals. The financial benefit to pubcasting stations and related organizations "will be immediate and substantial," Hinton said. In addition to cost savings, participants gain access to comprehensive coverage; wellness and care management; information and consultation on health care reform, contribution strategies and coverage questions; streamlined administration of eligibility, billing, enrollment, and reduced stop loss premiums. Anita Sims, NETA v.p. for finance and business development, headed the initiative, along with NETA's Business Center. "The captive is our largest initiative to date and one that will benefit many stations right now,” Sims said. “Looking ahead, I foresee exponential savings in a budget line that is a great concern to public broadcasters everywhere.”