Jul 26, 2012

Pacifica Foundation Board won't renew contracts for two top executives

The national board of the Pacifica Foundation voted Sunday (July 22) to begin a search for two new top executives. The board will not renew contracts for Executive Director Arlene Engelhardt and Chief Financial Officer LaVarn Williams, which both expire Nov. 30. The two were invited to apply for new terms in their positions.

The action was reported in an email to the SaveKPFA listserv and confirmed by Margy Wilkinson, chair of the local station board at KPFA, Pacifica's Berkeley station, who attended the meeting.

In a separate, related action, budget cuts totaling $1 million at Pacifica’s five radio stations, ordered by Engelhardt in the wake of an auditor’s report, were put on hold (Current, July 9). A motion passed on Monday (July 23) by the board ordered the stations to assess their upcoming income and expenses and submit plans to deal with any projected shortfalls. “It requires the local stations to take responsibility for their own problems,” instead of submitting to across-the-board cuts, said Wilkinson, noting that Pacifica’s two California stations, KPFA and Los Angeles’ KPFK, are both in relatively good financial shape. The plans are due July 30. — Elizabeth Jensen

WGBH, the top producer of PBS programs, now owns Public Radio International

In a move signalling its ambitions to extend its clout and influence in public radio, Boston's WGBH has acquired Public Radio International, the Minnesota-based program distributor of radio programs such as This American Life, The World and The Takeaway.

Financial terms of the deal have not been disclosed, but the sale will help to stabilize the nonprofit program distributor PRI, which ran an operating deficit of $2 million in 2011, according to PRI spokesperson Julia Yager.

"This is a deal borne out of shared visions," Yager said in an interview with Current. PRI began examining its options last year as its leadership considered the implications of various funding scenarios for public media.

PRI looked for partners to help it continue distributing radio programming and found that WGBH was best aligned with its own mission and values. The sale was not triggered by the BBC World Service's decision to end its distribution contract with PRI, Yager said.

WGBH, the leading producer of PBS programs, is repositioning itself within the public radio system with the purchase. The Boston pubcaster has significantly expanded its radio footprint with local audiences over the past few years, and it's now poised to play a bigger role in production and distribution of national radio programs. WGBH produces PRI's The World and is an editorial partner with The Takeaway, the morning drivetime show that's being revamped as a midday program as grant funding winds down. New York's WNYC co-produces the Takeaway with PRI and other editorial partners.

The sale transaction, which closed today, establishes PRI as an independent nonprofit affiliate of WGBH. By remaining operationally independent, PRI is able to maintain its existing relationships with program producers and affiliate stations, Yager said.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this post cited PRI's 2010 tax form in reporting that the program distributor ran operating deficits of $3.6 million and more during the recession.The losses on PRI's IRS Form 990 for 2010, $3.6 million for the fiscal year that ended in July 2010 and $4 million in 2011, were changes in net assets and covered in part by temporarily restricted grants, according to Yager. PRI's operating deficits for those two tax years were $335,000 in 2010 and $2 million in 2011.

Piven to star in Masterpiece/ITV's "Mr. Selfridge" next year

Masterpiece and Britain's ITV Studios have inked a deal for Mr. Selfridge, a period drama starring Jeremy Piven, according to Hollywood Reporter. Piven is best known for his role as the excitable Hollywood super-agent Ari Gold in the HBO hit Entourage.

The co-production centers on American Harry Gordon Selfridge — nicknamed Mile a Minute Harry — who founded the London department store Selfridges in 1909. His mission was "to make shopping as thrilling as sex," according to an ITV description. "Pioneering and reckless, with an almost manic energy, he created a theater of retail where any topic or trend that was new, exciting, entertaining — or sometimes just eccentric — was showcased."

Creator is Andrew Davies (Pride and Prejudice, Bleak House). The show is set to debut early in 2013.

Former APT head Pizzato addresses "bigger issue" of his termination

Former Alabama Public Television Executive Director Allan Pizzato spoke with CPB Ombudsman Joel Kaplan in a column posted today (July 26). The interview provides Pizzato's first detailed statements since his termination by the Alabama Educational Television Commission on June 12, under pressure from the commission to run shows from conservative activist David Barton.

"The programming decisions of what is put on the air and what is said on the air," Pizzato told Kaplan, "is the responsibility of the management, executive management and the programmers of that station. It is not the responsibility of the board."

"That to me is the biggest issue because this is bigger than Alabama Public Television and much bigger than Allan Pizzato," he said. "This is an issue that I know has managers worried all over the system. If there is a governmental agency that is responsible for the license of the station those entities keep an arm's length distance from that board making programming decisions. And my feeling was this was a direct violation of that. It's something that commissioners in the past had agreed to. This commission had not agreed to it. This was my way of trying to get them to see here is the reasoning . . . we never got to that discussion."

Kaplan weighed in: "The demand by some political appointees of the Alabama Educational Television Commission that APT staff broadcast tapes by David Barton's Wallbuilders group was improper, unethical, and outrageous."

Spokane School District okays negotiations to turn over KSPS license

The board of the Spokane Public Schools voted unanimously Wednesday (July 25) to explore severing ties with its KSPS public television station, according to the local Spokesman-Review. If the KSPS board agrees at its meeting tonight (July 26), it would signal the end of a 45-year relationship. The license would be held by the nonprofit Friends of KSPS.

“As we get more and more budget and funding challenges, it got to a point where we asked: Should we really be in the public television business?" said Mark Anderson, associate superintendent. "Our primary mission is K-12; we need to focus on that."

The newspaper reported that an analysis by Public Radio Capital determined that by 2023, KSPS on its own could generate $400,000 more in positive cash flow.

Bob Ross, remixed

PBS Digital Studios has released the second in its "Icons Remixed" series. This time, it's the "happy little clouds" painter Bob Ross. The first video in the series, posted in June, featured Fred Rogers and went viral with more than 5 million views.

UPDATE: As of Monday morning July 30, the Bob Ross video has received 1,657,150 views.

Sesame Workshop launches educational franchise business in India

Sesame Workshop is getting into the for-profit educational franchise business, starting with India, where it's launching Sesame Schoolhouse preschools and after-school clubs, reports the Wall Street Journal's India Real Time blog.

The Workshop has had a presence in the country since 2006 with Galli Galli Sim Sim, the Hindi version of Sesame Street. Sesame Workshop India also takes the show on mobile screens into slum communities in five cities.

Sesame Workshop aims to have 20 franchised schools open by March 2013, with plans for 382 within five years, according to the report. So far, one has opened in Jaipur, the capital and largest city in the northwest Indian state of Rajasthan.

Franchisees must provide a building with at least 2,000 square feet of covered, carpeted space and adequate outdoor space for the play equipment. A three-year license fee costs 150,000 rupees ($2,700). Sesame Schoolhouse, based in India, oversees the enterprise as a wholly-owned subsidiary of Sesame Workshop India and takes 15 percent to 20 percent royalties from a school’s earnings, the newspaper said. Parents will pay between 25,000 rupees and 60,000 rupees a year.

Profits support Sesame’s other ventures in the country, said Sashwati Banerjee, managing director of Sesame Workshop India.

More details at Franchise India.

Group to present 100,000 signatures to APT to keep "Religious Right propaganda" off air

Faithful America, an online, multi-faith, social-issue advocacy organization, will deliver petitions with more than 100,000 signatures to Alabama Public Television headquarters in Birmingham at 11:15 a.m. Central today (July 26). The petitions from Faithful America and CREDO Action, a progressive advocacy group, demand that the network "keep Religious Right propaganda off their stations." APT Executive Director Allan Pizzato and his deputy, Pauline Howland, were fired by the Alabama Educational Television Commission on June 12, after Pizzato resisted running programs by conservative activist David Barton (Current, April 25).

"We need a strong turnout to show that people of faith are appalled by this attempted right-wing takeover of public television," an announcement of the Faithful America event says.

UPDATE: Faithful America said several Birmingham faith leaders took part in the event this morning as well as Mark Potok (right, at the station), senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center. "David Barton is an extremist propagandist who regularly propagates known falsehoods, defames gay people, Muslims and others he doesn't like, and doesn't believe that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. deserves a place in our high school textbooks," Potok told the gathering. "He is a man without integrity who is pursuing a radical-right agenda while trying to bamboozle the country into believing he is an objective commentator. And that is why he has no place on Alabama Public Television, which is meant to be an educational resource for all people, not just ideologues like David Barton."

And the Rev. Darryl Kiehl, a local Lutheran clergyman, said, “As a Christian and a pastor I have always trusted public television as a source of reliable information about history and culture. I’m disappointed that APT is even considering broadcasting David Barton’s slanted, misinformed history of America. Since our nation’s founding, Christians have fought for justice, equality and the common good, and Barton's work appears to ignore that. His revisionist history is unworthy of public television.” 

Pubradio WBHM reports that Charles Grantham, station c.o.o., accepted the petitions (right). Of some 114,000 names, around 3,500 came from within Alabama, the station reported. Grantham thanked the representatives for their support, and said the signatures would be delivered to the commission. Grantham also said there are no plans to run the Barton content.

Grantham sent a letter to Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley protesting the termination of Pizzato and his deputy, Pauline Howland, last week. (Photos: Faithful America.)