Accounting problems cost WNET $1 for every $7 in federal grants

WNET’s accounting problems have cost it $1.96 million out of a series of production grants totaling $13 million, following  a two-year federal investigation of the big New York station’s grant accounting. Federal lawyers and the licensee — Educational Broadcasting Corp., now officially known as WNET.org — signed a settlement in which the station gave up 15 percent of the grant money:

$950,000 to be paid back to the feds for inadequately documented or prohibited costs, and
$1,015,046 that the station has spent on the productions but agreed to give up. By the time of the settlement, the growing sum of unreimbursed expenses had cut a $7.8 million hole in the station’s financial fabric. To keep federally backed productions going, the nonprofit continued spending money on them but stopped asking for reimbursements. Robert Feinberg, general counsel, said it was a voluntary decision by the station: “If we have done something wrong, we didn’t want to compound the error.”

“It’s definitely been a drain,” Feinberg said.

‘Sloppiness,’ not wrongdoing, led to probe, says WNET chair

The leadership of WNET said a federal investigation into the station’s use of federal grants totaling almost $13 million is wrapping up, and the organization is financially sound. “There was sloppiness as opposed to real wrongdoing in terms of our accounting systems, which has been addressed,” said James Tisch, chairman of the WNET Board, in an interview. The station has hired a new chief financial officer and created the position of executive director, financial control, to ensure compliance with federal grant rules, said Neal Shapiro, president. “We have a new CFO. We have a new compliance person to make it very clear we take all these rules very seriously,” Shapiro said.

New CPB chair sees watershed for public media

Maybe we’re at a 1967 moment again,” says Ernest Wilson III, shortly after his election as chair of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting on Sept. 16 [2009]. He’s making a hopeful comparison with the year when a Carnegie Commission report slid into President Johnson’s in-box in January and  returned for his signature as the Public Broadcasting Act in November. Wilson, who is dean of the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Southern California, admires the way the stars are aligning for an advance of federal policy on public media:

Foundations are examining the plight of journalism and reengaging with public media. Congressional leaders are supportive.

Shadows in the corridors

The scene: a small conference room of the Senate Committee on Commerce, late on a February afternoon. The players: a senior committee staffer and her longtime acquaintance, a public broadcasting general manager. The author is president of Colorado Public Television (KBDI) in Denver. Illustration: Elene Usdin. ‘Well, the bastards have you right where they want you!” growled the aide, barely looking up from her papers spread across the conference table.

Radio gets in on the Act

The plan was for a Public Television Act with no mention of dusty old radio. Not everyone signed on to the plan. Readers’ sympathies will be divided by this narrative adapted from Jack Mitchell’s new book, Listener Supported: The Culture and History of Public Radio, issued in March 2005 by Praeger Publishers.You may root for the TV side or the radio side out of professional allegiance. Or you may instinctively align with the underdog, despite its rascally tactics — or perhaps because of them. The underdog in 1967 was radio, then a has-been technology that TV expected to leave behind.

Citizens’ group organizes to back full CPB funding

A professional campaign firm has begun setting up a Citizens’ Committee for Public Broadcasting to coordinate grassroots support for “full funding” of CPB. Proposed and organized by a New York consumer rights lawyer, Donald Ross, the committee has startup funding from about five major public TV stations, Ross says. The initiative is the latest in a long line of citizen interventions to support or protect public broadcasting. Separate plans for a big-name commission of prominent citizens to resolve “serious issues” in the field’s future were announced by CPB Chairman Henry Cauthen two weeks ago, but have been delayed, according to CPB. The citizen’s committee’s handful of staffers, meanwhile, is starting to recruit field activists and organizers out of the downtown Washington branch office of Ross’s firm, M&R Strategic Services.

Public ranks pubcasting high in value per dollar

In a Roper Poll taken March 18-25, Americans ranked public TV and public radio among the services that provide the best value for the tax dollar. Only military defense of the country and the police had higher percentages of the sample calling them an “excellent value” or a “good value.” Highways, public schools, environmental protection and the court system ranked lower. The pollsters asked: “Here is a list of some different services that the government provides using tax dollars it collects from the public. Thinking of what you get for what you pay in taxes, would you read down that list and for each one tell me whether you feel you get excellent value for the dollar, or good value, or only fair value for the dollar, or poor value for the dollar?” These were the results:

Rank
Services provided with tax dollars
Percent excellent or good value

1
Military defense of the country
60

2
Police and law enforcement agencies
59

3
Public TV broadcasting
57

4
Public radio broadcasting
53

5
Medical, technological,d other research
52

6
Overseeing the safety of food products
50

7
The space program
49

8
Overseeing safety of prescription drugs
49

9
Highways, roads and bridges
45

10
Public schools
41

11
Environmental protection
41

12
Public transportation
40

13
Sponsorship of the arts
39

14
Overseeing soundness of financial institutions
35

15
The courts
33

16
International intelligence gathering
31

17
Contributions to the United Nations
30

18
Social welfare programs
28

 

“Quite frankly, I was really surprised,” said CPB researcher Janice Jones.