Report of the Carnegie Commission
on the Future of Public Broadcasting —
In 1977, 10 years after the original Carnegie Commission recommended federal aid to public television, the Carnegie Corporation of New York created a second blue-ribbon panel to ponder policies on noncommercial broadcasting. Its report was released in January 1979. See also the Carnegie II report’s recommendations and membership.
Twelve years have elapsed since the Carnegie Commission on Educational Television recommended a strengthened system of television stations, to be called public television. In the intervening years public radio and television have become established as major American institutions. This year larger audiences than ever before, easily three times the size of those a dozen years ago, will tune into a public radio or television station. This is also the year in which stations will be interconnected by satellite, beginning another decade of technological change. Despite such successes, public broadcasting continues to be plagued by many of the problems it faced a decade ago, as well as new difficulties that have emerged as the system has grown.
It was with this balanced view of public broadcasting that the boards of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) and National Public Radio (NPR), and other concerned citizens, approached Carnegie Corporation of New York in mid-1976. They believed the time had come to reappraise the condition of public broadcasting in the United States.
In response, Carnegie Corporation created a small task force to analyze the problems and to determine whether or not a new commission on public broadcasting would be useful. The task force worked intensively for more than six months, meeting with over two hundred people involved in and knowledgeable about public broadcasting. On the task force’s recommendation, the board of trustees of Carnegie Corporation established this Commission on the Future of Public Broadcasting in June 1977.
With Carnegie Corporation as our sole supporter, the Commission has been fully independent of existing interests in public broadcasting. Furthermore, from the beginning, Carnegie Corporation insisted that we need feel no commitment to the positions, philosophies, or statements of either the original Commission on Educational Television or the Carnegie task force.
Throughout the course of our inquiry, we have benefited from the trust and cooperation of the public broadcasting industry. Indeed, without remarkable assistance from the men and women in public broadcasting, our deliberations would not have been possible. We have made extraordinary demands on their time — for information and for the benefit of their experience — yet their doors have always been open.
Outside the public broadcasting system, support and assistance have been no less remarkable. Independent producers, scholars, spokespersons for public interest and minority groups, people working within commercial broadcasting, telecommunications, foundations, and the federal government have all generously contributed their time and knowledge.
These men and women in their strength, vitality, and willingness to put aside their own work to assist ours, have been our greatest source of optimism for the future of public broadcasting.
The Carnegie Corporation has given continuing encouragement and unstinting support for our work. Special thanks are due to President Alan Pifer, and to Vice-President David Robinson, our liaison.
We have been exceptionally fortunate in the competence and dedication of our staff. The executive director, Sheila Mahony, gave the Commission professional guidance of the highest caliber. She and her staff organized our meetings, seminars, and public hearings. Through all these discussions and innumerable staff papers, Ms. Mahony and her associates have done much to inform our study and to frame the substance of this report. We are happy to acknowledge the contributions of Richard Beatty, Ted Carpenter, Nicholas DeMartino, Dennis Dort, Michael Goldstein, Peter Low, Deborah Mack, Laura Perkins, Richard Poisky, Robert Stengel, and Andrew Solowey. Our support staff, Mary Abadie, who copyedited this report, Yvonne Maneates, Linda Muscara, and Carol Portnoy, who met every deadline for the Commission’s work, generally under heavy pressure and always with admirable skill.
The work of the Commission began in earnest during September 1977, when we gathered for the first time at the New York headquarters of the Carnegie Corporation to listen to the report of the latter’s task force and to hear the reflections of Dr. James Killian, who had led the renowned “Carnegie I.” During that first meeting, we identified four distinct areas of study around which issues clustered: programming, public participation, financing, and technology/dissemination. This analysis helped to structure our research and sub sequent discussions, but from the beginning the connectedness of the four areas of study — the seamless web — was apparent.
Our second meeting was convened in Washington, D.C., in October 1977. The Commission at that time established a form of inquiry that was to continue for the next 9 of 15 monthly meetings that took us from coast to coast. During the early stages of our work, we made an extensive effort to visit the principal centers of public broadcasting and to receive the views of its professionals These meetings typically lasted two full days. The first day was reserved for testimony and discussion with invited participants in a forum open to the public and the press. The meetings were structured around the important themes of the Commission’s work. In these meetings we benefited from the insights and testimony of 227 people. Indeed, through the course of this testimony, the issues and problems facing public broadcasting clearly emerged.
The second day of each meeting was taken up by internal discussion and debate of the issues, staff presentations, visits to stations, meetings with station managers from the region, and dinners with local community leaders and station board members. It was an exhausting but rewarding enterprise.
There were nine such public meetings, supplemented by four additional public hearings, and two private seminars, between October 1977 and June 1978.
The formal activities of the Commission were punctuated by frequent meetings between individual Commission members and the staff, as well as a number of station visits by individual commissioners. Throughout, the staff was in constant touch with the public broadcasting industry, its observers and critics, and a variety of experts in related fields. In all, several thousand people were contacted, resulting in nearly one hundred staff papers and memoranda. (See Appendix A for a full listing of our consultants, those who testified or participated in formal meetings, and a partial listing of the many people who guided our work through informal discussion.) Additionally, we received literally thousands of items of correspondence and written testimony. We retained 22 consultants whose papers and presentations have substantially aided our work. And we were much informed by the results of a survey of public broadcasting viewers and listeners conducted by an indomitable staff. Commission members, our consultants, and staff visited Great Britain, Japan, Canada, and 25 stations within the United States.
In July 1978 we undertook the second and crucial stage of our work, the difficult task of hammering out our recommendations and drafting this report. The report represents our best effort to design a new structure for public telecommunications that can accommodate the divergent yet clear needs of American public broadcasting in the decade ahead: stronger stations to serve hundreds of different local communities, a strong and protective national leadership representing the sys tem to the public and guiding its growth, and finally, a carefully protected institution for supporting the delicate creative work that forms the heart and mind of the system.