May 24, 2012

Groups ask PBS, WGBH to end sponsorship relationship with Chick-fil-A

Three high-profile organizations have announced a campaign to urge PBS and WGBH to drop the sponsor Chick-fil-A from the children's show Martha Speaks.

In a joint statement Wednesday (May 23), the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, Public Citizen and Corporate Accountability International said that in 2011, 56 million Chick-fil-A Kids’ Meals were distributed in Martha Speaks co-branded bags, and those meals "can contain as much as 670 calories, 29 grams of fat, and 25 grams of sugar." The groups also said the Chick-fil-A sponsorship "marks the first time advertising before and after a PBS children’s show has run simultaneously with an in-restaurant promotion."

They posted an online petition, addressed to PBS President Paula Kerger and WGBH President Jon Abbott, that as of Thursday afternoon had 1,980 signatures.

A case study from the Sponsorship Group for Public Television (PDF) details the "unique partnership ... between popular PBS Kids series Martha Speaks and quick service restaurant chain Chick-fil-A," which it says runs through December 2014.

PBS and WGBH provided this statement to Current in response:

"PBS and WGBH are committed to improving children’s literacy through the curriculum-based content in programs such as Martha Speaks, an award-winning series proven to boost literacy skills. In seeking funders to support the costs of producing our high-quality children’s programs we are grateful to have partners who also support our educational efforts and mission of extending learning to children wherever they may be. Chick-fil-A does this through its sponsorship of Martha Speaks. As part of Chick-fil-A’s support of the series, they have distributed more than 4 million books, as well as 4.5 million printed pieces that feature educational activities and content from the series to promote parent-child interaction. The brief on-air messages for Chick-fil-A comply with PBS’s strict guidelines for sponsors of children’s programs — the message is in support of educational programming on PBS and is aimed at parents, not children. In addition, there is no call to action and no product is shown."

WXXI news director hangs 300 feet in the air for "Audio Postcard"

Julie Philipp, news director at WXXI in Rochester, N.Y., got out from behind her desk last week — to dangle off the side of a downtown building for an "Audio Postcard."

The adventure was part of the local Boy Scout Council's 21 Stories for Scouts fundraising event. Participants collecting more than $1,000 get to rappel down 309 feet, or 21 stories, from the roof of the First Federal Building.

The council invites members of the media to participate the day before. "I thought it would be a unique way for WXXI News to highlight the commitment we’ve made to covering issues related to at-risk youth in our community," Philipp told Current."I first offered the opportunity to my newsroom staff members, but none of them seemed very eager to try." Philipp was up to the challenge, and fearless of heights, because she's also done indoor rock climbing, downhill skiing and mountain climbing.

Because this particular audio postcard would be even more exciting with video, two videographers used small Canon HD camcorders, one above and one below, and Philipp wore a digital camera on her helmet — provided by Eastman Kodak, headquartered across the street from WXXI. The helmet cam footage was transferred to a camcorder for editing by WXXI's Martin Kaufman.

The station has been creating "Audio Postcards" for several years, Philipp said. "It's a great way to capitalize on the strengths of public radio: sound, storytelling, and a personal connection with the listener." (Photo: WXXI)

APM's "Saint Paul Sunday" signing off in June after 32-year run

Broadcasts of Saint Paul Sunday, a weekly classical pubradio offering from American Public Media, are ending after 32 years. The last new episode was produced in 2007.

APM notified client stations that the last show would air June 24. In its memo, APM said the program was launched in 1980 "on a very simple premise: we wanted to give listeners intimate access to how music was created at the very highest level." Host Bill McGlaughlin introduced listeners to "the classical world's absolute top talent," APM said, including Renée Fleming, the Emerson String Quartet, Chanticleer and Anne-Sophie Mutter. The program earned a George Foster Peabody Award in 1995.

"But after several years of repeats, APM has made the difficult decision to celebrate Saint Paul Sunday's successes and sunset it this summer," the memo said. "Thank you to all stations who have carried the program over the years and brought these world class artists and their stories into your listeners' lives."

Currently, according to APM, 83 stations air the show.

In a 1999 commentary in Current, former PRI President Stephen L. Sayler identified Saint Paul Sunday Morning as one of the titles that "helped extend listening to public radio beyond drivetime."

Romney again calls federal support of PBS "unnecessary," suggests advertising

In an interview with Time magazine, Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney once again targets PBS for funding elimination. His comments echo previous statements last December.

"I’ve laid out a whole series of areas that I will reduce spending," the former Massachusetts governor tells Time reporter Mark Halperin. "And I’m going to eliminate some programs that I think are duplicative and unnecessary. I’ve talked about Amtrak subsidies, subsidies to PBS, subsidies to the endowment for the arts, to the endowment for the humanities."

"I like PBS," Romney says. "I’d like my grandkids to be able to watch PBS. But I’m not willing to borrow money from China, and make my kids have to pay the interest on that, and my grandkids, over generations, as opposed to saying to PBS, look, you’re going to have to raise more money from charitable contributions or from advertising."

At last week's PBS Annual Meeting in Denver, APTS President Pat Butler said he hopes to meet with Romney soon. "Massachusetts was never a funder of public television," Butler said, so Romney "operates from lack of experience with the public broadcasting system. He's a smart, decent guy, I think he’ll listen to reason. It's important to get the facts in front of him." 

The entire transcript of the Time interview is here.