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public TV and radio in the United States

Public TV’s vision of itself: a lens for understanding the world

Originally published in Current, March 8, 2004
By Karen Everhart

After some fiddling with language, station leaders Feb. 23 [2004] endorsed a new mission statement describing public TV as a "unifying force in American culture."

Several participants celebrated the agreement at the PBS Annual Members Meeting as a significant demonstration of unity among the network's notoriously divided members.
"The beauty of this is that all the stations could sign on to something," commented Ellis Bromberg, g.m. of WMVS/WMVT in Milwaukee.

During the debate, station leaders agreed that the proposed "Vision" paragraph at the end of the mission statement had grown too wordy and needed to be simplified. PBS Board Chairman Alberto Ibarguen advised executives to vote on the concepts articulated in the statement rather than editing through a parliamentary process.

But station reps took at least the next half hour to strike 50 words from the statement and approve it. They took separate votes over where to insert the phrase "community-based," eventually choosing "community-based programming and services."

Words in purple below were deleted; words in green were added.

Digital public television, through its community-based programming and services, will be the media home for the civic and cultural life of America. With its deep roots in, and ongoing engagement with local communities, digital public television will earn its place at the center of American life by being the community-based solution to the limitations of market-based media. Its programming and services will be a unifying force in American culture, a lens through which we can understand our diverse nation and the world.

After editing, the Vision paragraph reads:

Public television, through its community-based programming and services, will be a unifying force in American culture, a lens through which we can understand our diverse nation and the world.

The final and complete text is posted on this site.

Advocates said the statement will be refined over time. "This is a living document," said Deborah Onslow, president of WMHT in Albany/Schenectady, N.Y., during the debate. "If we give into the temptation of being total geniuses, we will be here until tomorrow," she warned. The station reps adopted the amended statement by unanimous voice vote.
The PBS Board will review the statement at its meeting later this month, Onslow said. "We hope they will agree to build it into their strategic planning."

As chair of the National Educational Telecommunications Association, Onslow worked with representatives of public TV's other affinity organizations to draft the statement and garner support for it within the field [see earlier article below]. Leaders of the affinity groups hope to use it in systemwide strategic planning talks, but they recognize the need for an outside facilitator to "help push us forward" on a plan that specifies strategic priorities and goals, she said.

"From that mission and vision statement will come some of the hard action," said Bromberg, whose station is a member of the Major Market Group. For small and large stations to "drill down deeper" and agree on strategic priorities will be "a little more fractious."

Earlier article
Declaring public TV’s mission: ‘unifying force in American culture’

Originally published in Current, Feb. 9, 2004
By Karen Everhart

Leaders of pubTV’s affinity groups have drafted and endorsed a new vision and mission statement for public television. Sixty station chiefs petitioned the PBS Board to adopt it as guidance for the network’s strategic planning.
The vision statement updates the traditional mission of public TV by describing its importance in an increasingly fragmented, hypercommercialized environment. It also calls on the field to extend its core values of education, noncommercialism, localism and universal access to new digital platforms.

During the PBS Membership Meeting, Feb. 23 [story above], station execs will vote on a resolution describing the statement as a “shared vision” for public TV.

Last December reps of public TV’s five affinity groups — the National Educational Telecommunications Association, Major Market Group, Organization of State Broadcasting Executives, Small Station Association and Program Resource Group — began drafting the statement as the first step in systemwide planning talks convened by CPB.

“Our system is so diverse that it’s very hard to hammer out strategic planning that will fit everybody,” said Deborah Onslow, NETA chairman and president of WMHT in Albany, N.Y. “CPB decided the way to start out would be a ground-up effort” led by the affinity groups that represent various public TV interests, she added.

Affinity group leaders aimed to find common values shared by public TV’s notoriously fractious licensee groups. “That the major market and small station groups would sign onto the same document is pretty amazing,” commented CPB President Robert Coonrod.

“It was very hard to get something on which we could all agree,” said Onslow. “This gives me hope for a systemwide planning process that will also win approval.”

Proposed public TV mission statement:
Why public television?

Public television is the only universally accessible national resource that uses the power and accessibility of television to educate, enlighten and inform. Because of its public service mission, public television is more essential than ever in the cluttered media landscape.

In a world of commercial media conglomerates, public television is the only locally owned television provider in most communities. Its array of education and outreach services, combined with local ownership, means that public television stations are actively engaged in their communities, creating content and providing services that respond to local needs.

Because the goal of commercial television is to maximize profits by attracting as many viewers as possible to expose them to advertising, its programming philosophy is driven by ratings as a key measure of its success. Public television, on the other hand, strives for impact and measures its success by the extent of its ability to educate and inform, to enlighten and entertain. In short, public television strives to:

Mission statement for digital PTV

Digital technology offers new opportunities to support a public service mission that serves the American people. Public television will use digital technology over multiple platforms to:


Digital public television will be an essential part of our national and community life. Rooted in and deeply engaged with local communities, it will achieve the financial stability required to provide services to all Americans. Its programming and other digital services will be a unifying force in American culture, a lens through which we can view and understand our diverse nation and the world.

Web page posted March 8, 2004
The newspaper about public TV and radio
in the United States
Current Publishing Committee, Takoma Park, Md.
Copyright 2004


Probably the best known mission statement for public TV was penned by a New Yorker magazine writer, E.B. White, in 1966.

A young radio producer, Bill Siemering, wrote a statement of NPR's purpose in 1971.

Many other documents in public broadcasting's history deal with the field's purpose and identity.

Notably, the Public Broadcasting Act contains a number of the key adjectives that imply a series of purposes for public broadcasting.


Complete text of mission statement.

Current commentaries on the purposes of public broadcasting.