May 1, 2012

Ariz. man accused of stealing PTFP funds pleads not guilty

The Arizona man indicted on charges of embezzling federal funds that were given to start a Native radio station pleaded not guilty April 26 in the District of Arizona U.S. District Court, according to online court records. The attorney representing the defendant, John Bittner, said he may file a motion for Bittner to be mentally evaluated. A jury trial was set for June 5.

As Current reported April 23, Bittner is alleged to have used $322,364 in Public Telecommunications Facilities Program funds on personal expenses, including a car, medical costs, child support payments and a trip to Las Vegas. After his indictment, Bittner attempted suicide and spent time in a hospital in Flagstaff, Ariz., his hometown.

IDA sponsoring panel on future of documentaries on PBS

The International Documentary Association is hosting a panel discussion, "Doc U: The Future of Docs on PBS," May 10 in Los Angeles, to examine the impact of NEA funding cuts as well as PBS's decision to shift the nights for indie showcases Independent Lens and POV (Current, March 12). Negotiations continue among Independent Television Service, POV and PBS about the shows' timeslots.

Appearing on the panel will be Simon Kilmurry, e.p. of POV; Brenda Brkusic, e.p. of program development and national productions at PBS SoCal; Gordon Quinn, artistic director and founding member of Kartemquin Films; and Lyn Goldfarb, award-winning documentary director and producer.

Tickets are available online.

Dues slightly up, content spending slightly down in proposed fiscal 2013 PBS budget

PBS's draft fiscal 2013 budget would raise member dues by 2 percent. That would add $3.6 million to PBS’s total revenue, bringing the total membership assessment to $185.5 million. The PBS Board also recommended a cap of plus or minus 20 percent on the change to a station’s FY13 dues. There would be no cap for FY14, subject to board approval.

In a memo to stations, PBS President Paula Kerger said the board felt the cap "was the best way to ensure that dues accurately reflect the current financial situation of each station."

Total projected revenues are $283.2 million, down from $287 million in FY12. Projected expenses are steady, around $292 million.

Total proposed content spending is down slightly, from $192.2 million in FY12 to $191.5 million in FY13. PBS will continue work to increase viewing Sundays through Wednesdays by scheduling shows that appeal to similar audiences on each night. PBS also plans to invest in new content to complement icon series Nature and Nova, as it did this year with the upcoming Antiques Roadshow partner program Market Wars. But it expects to spend $4 million less on new content development in FY13 — $7.8 million, down from $12.6 million in FY12.

The budget says PBS also needs the additional dues to stabilize its information technology and broadcast infrastructure, including the PBS Satellite Operations Center. PBS has deferred these costs in recent years to focus funding on content, the budget notes.

The document has been sent to member stations for feedback. The PBS Board will take final action on the budget at its June meeting.

A musical farewell for a longtime MPR staffer

It's the last day of work for Valerie Arganbright, managing director of membership at Minnesota Public Radio, first hired by MPR in 1990. So 89.3 The Current had a special Coffee Break chock full o' tunes with Valerie in the title. Because, as one commenter pondered, "I guess it was too hard to find songs with 'Arganbright' in them?" One suggestion: "Ride of the Valleries" by Wagner.

American Graduate Latino coming in November from ITVS

ITVS will launch a bilingual American Graduate Latino this November as part of CPB's ongoing American Graduate: Let’s Make It Happen initiative targeting the high school dropout crisis.

American Graduate Latino will supply American Graduate broadcasts and online programming in Spanish and English to assist viewers, teachers and community leaders in preventing dropouts.

At the core of the bilingual initiative are two documentaries executive-produced by director Bernardo Ruiz (American Experience: Roberto Clemente) scheduled to air in 2013 on Independent Lens. The films, produced in association with Latino Public Broadcasting and distributed in English and Spanish, will explore why Latino students are dropping out and tell the personal stories behind those numbers.

Also, five short-form docs executive produced by ITVS will target Latino audiences through multiple platforms including broadcast on PBS, multicaster V-Me, commercial cable outlets and digital platforms such as YouTube and the indie sharing websites SnagFilms and Jaman, in English and Spanish.

FCC announces channel-sharing workshop on May 22

Lonna Thompson, c.o.o. of the Association of Public Television Stations, will be a panelist in the FCC's channel-sharing workshop on May 22. The FCC recently was authorized to conduct spectrum auctions to clear broadcast bandwidth for use by mobile devices; one of the options each station faces is sharing a 6 MHz channel with another broadcaster. The webcast workshop will focus on how broadcasters are approaching the financial and strategic opportunities presented by channel sharing, the FCC said. Thompson and other panelists — John Cunney, head of telecom media technology at Santander Global Banking & Markets; Eric De Silva, partner, Wiley Rein; and John Hane, counsel, Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman — will discuss the business and operational challenges and potential solutions faced by broadcasters considering channel sharing. The discussion will be followed by audience questions and comments, which may be submitted via email. The panel will run from 10 a.m. to noon Eastern and may be viewed online here or followed on Twitter using the hashtag #fcclive.

Public Media Futures forum on local programming now available online

Video of the most recent Public Media Futures forum, April 28 in Los Angeles, is now online. Focused on innovations in local programming and new models for sustainable funding, the gathering was sponsored by USC Annenberg's Center on Communication Leadership & Policy, in partnership with American University's School of Communication. Additional coverage here.

Pubmedia journalists among 13 awarded U.S. Knight Journalism Fellowships

The 13 U.S. journalists just awarded John S. Knight Journalism Fellowships to pursue proposals for journalism innovation at Stanford University during the upcoming academic year include several with public-media ties. Barbara Allen, a producer/engineer at Chicago's WTTW-TV, will develop a transmedia platform to allow audiences to virtually experience historical events; Andrew Donohue, editor of the nonprofit news outlet Voice of San Diego, will create sustainable investigative news projects built around crowd-sourcing, transparency and narrative storytelling; Latoya Peterson, a former Public Media Corps fellow and editor and owner of, will work to democratize communication and societal participation through the multimedia and text capabilities of mobile technology; and Eric Westervelt, Berlin correspondent for NPR News, will create a digital international news platform using all aspects of new media.