Mar 23, 2012

Moyers, Winship encourage PBS to "reverse bad decision" of indie program shifts

In an essay on their Public Affairs Television website, veteran pubTV newsmen Bill Moyers and Michael Winship discuss the importance of the diverse voices on Independent Lens and P.O.V. to the PBS programming schedule. Since the network shifted the shows from Tuesdays to Thursdays, Independent Lens has suffered ratings and carriages losses. Moyers and Winship are encouraged that PBS has signaled it is willing to consider other timeslots for the programs, and that the network told the New York Times it is "fully committed to independent films and the diversity of content they provide.”

"That can quickly be demonstrated," the two write, "by reversing a bad decision and returning to a national core time slot the independent documentaries created — often at real financial sacrifice — by the producers and filmmakers whose own passion is to reveal life honestly and to make plain, for all to see, the realities of inequality and injustice in America."

Philanthropist honors 20th year of gay newsmag "In The Life" with $1 million

New York philanthropist Henry van Ameringen is donating $1 million to In The Life Media to honor of the 20th anniversary of pubTV's longtime gay newsmagazine In The Life, he writes in a column today (March 23) on Huffington Post. He writes of first seeing the program in 1992: "At the time, the show was more focused on entertainment; it wasn't until a few years later that it became a newsmagazine. The simple fact that there was a television program, airing on public television stations around the country, that represented LGBT people in such a genuine and accurate manner was stunning, and even more so that it had been produced by a tiny staff on a threadbare budget." He soon became a key funder. "And in the past 20 years the stories that have been told have had a tremendous impact, creating the social change and momentum we now see toward full equality," he writes. Here's a look at the show in 1997 from Current's archives.

A special letter to the editors

Peters D. Willson, longtime friend of Current founder Jim Fellows and the executor of his estate, has penned a tribute to the paper's outgoing Managing Editor Steve Behrens, and notes: "Now more than ever public broadcasting needs Current's independent news perspective and the public forum it offers for sharing and debating opinion and commentary about the future of public media." In 1977, Fellows persuaded Behrens to join him at the National Association of Educational Broadcasters to design and launch Current.

Ira Glass on "Downton Abbey": "Complete and utter (expletive)"

Apparently This American Life host Ira Glass is no fan of the PBS hit Downton Abbey. In an interview with Duke University's Chronicle, Glass says he watched three episodes of the Edwardian costume drama on Masterpiece, "and wanted to punch someone in the face for the complete and utter bulls**t that it is. It’s the most romantic, y’know, romantic piece of tripe, it just made me want to kick somebody."

Audit recommends separating heads of Jefferson Public Radio, fundraising group

An Oregon University System audit of Jefferson Public Radio and its fundraising organization is citing a potential conflict of interest in having Ron Kramer as executive director of both JPR and the JPR Foundation, according to the Mail Tribune in Medford, Ore. Jim Beaver, SOU spokesman, said university administrators agree with the recommendation to have two separate executive director positions and hope to have a plan in place to do so by the end of June. Kramer denies there is a conflict, and told the paper that his oversight of the foundation was a condition of his employment with SOU. Kramer also questioned the timing of the audit and its conclusions. "Times are tough" fiscally, as budgets continue to be slashed, Kramer said. "One could conclude the university is trying to gain control over the foundation's assets." The audit also recommended against the foundation's plans to renovate two historic downtown properties, reports local KOBI-TV News.

After 20 years, BBC moving distribution of World Service from PRI to APM

The BBC has selected American Public Media as the exclusive distributor of its World Service to pubradio in the United States, ending its distribution relationship of more than 20 years with Public Radio International. The BBC told Current today (March 23) that the new five-year contract begins July 1. “I appreciate the support that Public Radio International have given to BBC World Service in the U.S. over the years," said the BBC's Richard Porter, controller, English, in a statement, "and we will continue to work with them on our co-productions, including The World.”

FCC challenging Daystar qualifications to purchase pubstations in Waco, Orlando

The FCC is questioning the Daystar religious broadcasting network’s qualifications to purchase two public television stations, citing lack of sufficient proof of local control and educational programming.

A March 13 FCC letter provides insight into the commission’s nearly yearlong delay in approving the sale of WMFE-TV in Orlando, which the station canceled last week, and could affect the pending purchase of former PBS affiliate KWBU in Waco, Texas. The Daystar Television Network was the buyer in both cases — and also bid on KCSM-TV in San Mateo, Calif.

In the letter, Barbara Kreisman, chief of the video division of the FCC’s media bureau, addressed the two local entities involved in those sales: The Community Educators of Orlando, and Community Television Educators of Waco. Officers for both entities are Marcus Lamb and his wife, Joni, founders and top execs of the Bedford, Texas-based Daystar.

The six-page letter gives the groups 15 days to “demonstrate that the stations will be used to advance an educational program and will be locally controlled.” Without that proof, “we cannot conclude” that the groups meet the eligibility requirements to hold a noncom license, the letter says.

Longtime public broadcasting attorney Ernest Sanchez said that in the FCC letter, Kreisman is questioning whether the local Waco and Orlando entities “are genuine, functioning, local groups, or are they ‘window dressing’ for some third party, such as Daystar?” Undisclosed third party control of a station is prohibited, he said.

The FCC is also asking for more explanation from Daystar on local programming, Sanchez said, as it appears that the two stations would carry the same content, mainly Daystar shows. And the proposed involvement of Daystar personnel in the local stations, along with Daystar’s work in helping finance the sale transactions, has the FCC wondering if Daystar “is a ‘real party in interest,’ which would secretly control the nominally local and independent stations,” Sanchez said.

On March 14, WMFE-TV in Orlando informed the FCC that it had withdrawn from its sales agreement. The station had been waiting for FCC approval since April 2011. “The deal was simply dragging through the process longer than we’d anticipated,” said Jose Fajardo, WMFE president. The FCC’s letter “helped us make our decision to opt out.”

In Waco, the letter caught KWBU President Joe Riley by surprise. “We’re thinking and talking, we don’t know what our next move will be,” he said.

Daystar declined comment to Current. Riley said he spoke briefly with Daystar reps since the letter went public. “They’re trying to figure out what to do too,” he said.

The letter could also affect work by the Independent Public Media group, headed by John Schwartz, founder of WYBE in Philadelphia and KBDI in Denver as well as WYEP-FM in Pittsburgh, and Ken Devine, a former WNET v.p. The IPM, funded by $40 million from Schwartz’s EBS Companies, is bidding on KCSM in San Mateo and wants to acquire other public TV stations to keep noncom spectrum within the pubcasting system. “We have seen the letter and are reviewing the issues raised in it with our attorneys,” Devine said.

The issues in the FCC letter are similar to those 14 years ago when religious broadcaster Cornerstone TeleVision tried to purchase WQED’s second TV channel in Pittsburgh. Back then, the FCC asked Cornerstone for “further demonstration of the overall general educational, cultural and instructional nature” of programming it would air on reserved Channel 16, saying it provided “insufficient documentation” of its educational purpose or programs. Ultimately, the FCC approved the deal but Cornerstone backed out. — Dru Sefton

PBS agrees to consider moving indie showcases after online outcry from filmmakers

In reaction to recent pressure from the indie film community following Current's story on PBS's move of Independent Lens and P.O.V. from Tuesdays to Thursdays, the network has agreed to consider shifting the indie showcases to another night, reports the New York Times. An open letter to PBS from Kartemquin Films now has several hundred signatories. And PBS Ombudsman Michael Getler weighed in on the controversy in his column Thursday (March 22). His concerns as a PBS viewer, he writes, "are two-fold. One is that the series not be marginalized if that is what the schedule change winds up doing. The other is that, at least at this stage, the current situation seems to fit a pattern that I sense of diminishing or less prominent public affairs programming distributed specifically by PBS in recent years."

Two ex-candidates sue WNIN, alleging exclusion from 2010 debate

Two former Libertarian candidates for Congress are suing pubcaster WNIN in Evansville, Ind., contending they were wrongly excluded from a debate at the station, according to the Evansville Courier & Press. Other defendants named in the suit are the League of Women Voters of Southwestern Indiana, the president of that organization, and the national League. John W. Cunningham and Edward Gluck are asking for $450,750 in damages. The lawsuit centers on a Oct. 26, 2010, debate at the WNIN-PBS9 studio between one Republican and one Democratic candidates for the 8th District seat.