FAIR study finds strong corporate ties on public TV boards

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An “overwhelming” number of board members at five major public television stations have links to the corporate and financial sectors, a new study by Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting has found.

FAIR, a progressive media-reform group, looked at occupations of current trustees at WNET in New York; WGBH, Boston; WETA, Arlington, Va.; WTTW, Chicago; and KCET, Los Angeles. Of the 182 members, 84 percent have corporate backgrounds. “Another 14 members appear to be on the board because of their families’ corporate-derived wealth,” the report said.

Seventy-five board members are financial industry executives; 24 are corporate attorneys.

Board members without corporate ties were rare, the study noted. Nine are academics, six work with nonprofit groups, three are former government officials, two are non-corporate attorneys, two are journalists, one is a religious educator and one is a former principal of a magnet school. Six are station insiders.

“Controlling the board means wielding ultimate power over the direction and character of a public television station,” FAIR noted.

Jim Naureckas, editor of FAIR’s Extra! blog, where the survey was posted, said the organization would prefer that public television boards be made up of trustees with closer ties to the media.

“Ideally, we’d like to see people who have some expertise in what public television is supposed to be doing — educators, nonprofit journalists, filmmakers, academics” as well as activists who advocate for civil rights, women, labor, consumers, disabled persons and the environment, he said in an email to Current.