The filmmakers behind a new documentary briefly discussed their “deeply troubling” experience with public TV in an appearance on public radio’s On Point Wednesday. Tia Lessin and Carl Deal directed Citizen Koch, now hitting theaters after vying for grant funding and a broadcast commitment from PBS’s Independent Lens. The film examines the influence of wealthy conservatives such as David and Charles Koch on Republican politics. A May 2013 article by the New Yorker’s Jane Mayer suggested that ITVS, Independent Lens’s producer, backed away from the film due to pressure from New York’s WNET, where David Koch sat on the board. Appearing on On Point, Lessin and Deal said ITVS asked them to remove content related to the Kochs from their film and to change the name.
In the first installment of our interview with Linda Winslow, outgoing e.p. of PBS NewsHour, she discussed her early start in broadcast journalism and working with Fred Friendly, a founding father of public broadcasting. In this, the second of three parts, she discusses the start of the NewsHour, working as a woman in media, and the NewsHour's commitment to its mission. Part three will be posted next week. This transcript has been edited. Current: What did you do next after Public Broadcasting Laboratory?
Startup Internet TV service Aereo has launched a website to make its case to the public in advance of a U.S. Supreme Court hearing next week. The court’s ruling after Tuesday’s arguments could make or break the service, which allows subscribers to view and record television broadcast programs online. Broadcasters, including PBS and New York’s WNET, have sued Aereo, claiming the company is violating copyright law by converting broadcast signals to streaming video. Launched Thursday, Aereo’s website, ProtectMyAntenna.org, lays out the company’s case for why it should prevail and provides links to all court filings to date. The case before the Supreme Court, American Broadcasting Companies, Inc., et al., v. Aereo, Inc., stems from a pair of lawsuits brought by noncommercial broadcasters and commercial networks including ABC, CBS and NBC.
• WUGA-TV in Athens, Ga., is cutting all local programming from its schedule and eliminating six staff members as of June 30, the University of Georgia announced Thursday. The changes come as a result of a study requested by Jere Morehead, president of UGA, the station's licensee. The study determined that the cost of ramping up local programming and student involvement for the station "was just too great relative to the cost of the operation," according to the release. WUGA will switch to carrying the PBS World Channel full-time beginning July 1. The move will save the university about $565,000 annually, the release said.
• Frontline today won a George Polk Award for "League of Denial," its investigation of the NFL's efforts to downplay evidence linking head injuries of football players to long-term brain disorders. The nonprofit newsroom Center for Public Integrity also won a Polk for "After the Meltdown," which explored the aftermath of economic crash caused by sub-prime mortgage lenders. A full list of Polk winners, presented by Long Island University, is here. • While CPB Ombudsman Joel Kaplan agrees with WNET's decision to return a $3.5 million grant for its series reporting on public pensions, he remains troubled by "the lack of transparency by both WNET and PBS" in handling the controversy. He suggests the original agreement between WNET and the Laura and John Arnold Foundation needs to be disclosed.
WNET will return a $3.5 million grant it received for a series of reports on public pensions after facing questions about the funder’s involvement with the issue. In a joint statement, PBS and WNET announced Friday that the grant to support the Pension Peril series would go back to the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, whose co-founder John Arnold has supported efforts to reduce public pensions. “While PBS stands by WNET’s reporting in this series, in order to eliminate any perception on the part of the public, our viewers, and donors that the Foundation’s interests influenced the editorial integrity of the reporting for this program, WNET has decided to forego the Arnold Foundation support and will return the gift,” the statement said. The statement continued:
“We made a mistake, pure and simple,” said Stephen Segaller, Vice President of Programming at WNET. “The PBS NewsHour Weekend is a new production and while we thought we were following the guidelines and the correct vetting processes, we were incorrect.
Oregon Public Broadcasting has asked New York's WNET to demonstrate that no "improper influence" was exerted by the primary funder of its special news series covering public pensions. OPB said in a Feb. 13 statement that it is “seeking assurance from WNET” that its Pension Peril series was not subject to improper editorial influence. In a PandoDaily article published earlier this week, reporter and columnist David Sirota called attention to a major funder of the series, the Laura and John Arnold Foundation. According to Sirota, co-founder John Arnold has supported political efforts to reduce retirement benefits for public employees. Sirota argued that Arnold’s support for the WNET production calls its impartiality into question.
New York’s WNET issued a statement responding to a PandoDaily article that scrutinized funding for its topical reporting series, The Pension Peril. In the article, published Wednesday, reporter and columnist David Sirota argued that the WNET production was ethically tainted by undisclosed funding provided by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, which has a political agenda promoting public pension reform, the topic examined in its series. WNET rebutted Sirota's criticism that it sought to obscure the funding relationship. The Arnold Foundation’s support for the series was “clearly disclosed” on the PBS NewsHour Weekend broadcasts that have featured the Pension Peril segments, according to the station's Feb. 12 statement. WNET also posted a compilation of opening credits to the three broadcasts, each of which mentioned the Arnold Foundation without directly linking it to the Pension Peril segments.
Charges that a public TV reporting initiative about pensions is ethically compromised by its funding sources led to a fiery exchange today between the funder in question and reporter and columnist David Sirota, who leveled the claims in an article for the Silicon Valley news site PandoDaily. Sirota pointed out in his story that The Pension Peril, a two-year reporting initiative produced by New York's WNET, receives most of its funding from the Laura and John Arnold Foundation. Co-founder John Arnold, a hedge-fund manager and former trader for Enron, has contributed to political campaigns urging state lawmakers to reduce pension benefits for public employees, according to Sirota. WNET largely neglects to disclose the relationship, Sirota wrote, though he did turn up a reference on a Pension Peril report's web page. According to WNET, The Pension Peril has so far delivered reports for two shows that it produces: PBS NewsHour Weekend, which PBS distributes nationally, and Long Island Business Report, which airs on WNET's Long Island outlet. The reporting project examines "the deficit in funding for public employees’ retirement benefits," according to a news release from the station.