Nixon Administration Public Broadcasting Papers, 1969-1974 — Introduction

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These memos from the Nixon Administration cover a period of peak conflict between the White House and public broadcasting. The documents were released by the government five years later in response to a Freedom of Information Act request in 1978 by the second Carnegie Commission. These summaries were prepared and released during the Carter Administration by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, the successor agency of the White House Office of Telecommunications Policy, a central player in the 1969–74 conflict. The summaries were published as The Nixon Administration Public Broadcasting Papers 1969–1974 by the National Association of Educational Broadcasters.

Introduction and Foreword to NAEB printing and NTIA letters of transmittal are shown below.

Yearly summaries: 1969 | 1970 | 1971 | 1972 | 1973 | 1974

Foreword [to NAEB publication]

In publishing The Nixon Administration Public Broadcasting Papers 1969-1974, the NAEB is making available to its members and other interested parties a record of a particularly critical period in the history of public broadcasting. Distribution of this summary whose origin and content are explained in the covering memoranda, is intended to illustrate a chapter in the study and analysis of certain constitutional issues in and the structural framework of public broadcasting, and to bring to light “a pattern of practices” that will focus serious attention on the need for insulation from political interference.

This summary can be regarded as a companion document to a Public Telecommunications Review reprint of a series of articles written by Dr. Robert K. Avery and Dr. Robert Pepper, The Politics of Interconnection: A History of Public Television at the National Level. Another treatment of public broadcasting’s recent history, the Avery/Pepper series includes the articles “Interconnection Connection”; “Interconnection Disconnection”; “Interconnection Reconnection”; and “Interconnection Redirection.” This PTR series is now available in reprint form from the NAEB.

As part of the continuing examination of the statutory and internal structure of public broadcasting, the NAEB hopes to stimulate, through the PTR, further discussion and opinion on these basic issues. It is hoped that interested parties, among them constitutional scholars and communications attorneys, will examine these issues placing them in current contexts as well as citing past incidences.


NTIA letters of transmittal

February 23, 1979

Ms. Sheila Mahony
Executive Director
Carnegie Commission on the Future of Public Broadcasting
1270 Avenue of the Americas
New York, New York 10020

Dear Ms. Mahony:

This is in further response to your November 9, 1978, Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) , 5 U.S.C. Section 552, request for all records within the custody of NTIA dealing with public broadcasting from 1967 to the present.

Pursuant to your request, we have made a search of NTIA files, including those of NTIA’s predecessor, the Office of Telecommunications Policy, and located more than 10,000 pages of material regarding public broadcasting.

Having now reviewed all of the material–this accounts for the time it has taken us to respond to you–we find that many of the documents are exempt from disclosure under 5 U.S.C. Section 552(b) (5), which allows agencies to withhold “inter-agency or intra-agency memorandums or letters which would not be available by law to a party other than an agency in litigation with an agency.” This exception has been interpreted to allow an agency to withhold policy memorandums which are a part of the deliberative or advisory process or which involve attorney work product, although purely factual material must be disclosed.

The decision to withhold documents is discretionary and, in this case, we have determined that the public interest would be served if certain of the exempt documents were disclosed.

Specifically, many of the Nixon Administration policy documents show a pattern of practices that evidence the extent to which public broadcasting has been subject to political pressures–practices which are germane to issues raised both by your Commission’s recent report and current legislative activities of the House and Senate Communications Subcommittees. These issues include the sensitive problem of the government’s relationship to a First Amendment medium. This goes to the essence of current proposals to provide public broadcasting greater insulation from political interference. Therefore, in addition to making available to you all Carter, Ford and Nixon Administration documents which are of a strictly factual nature, we are also making available those Nixon Administration policy memorandums which bear on the subjects of public broadcasting programming and system control.

Based upon discussion between counsel, we are enclosing approximately 1,000 pages of material. Consistent with the above, we will provide such additional material as you may request.

Department of Commerce regulations provide that a fee of seven cents per page be charged for duplication costs in connection with FOIA requests. We would appreciate remittance of a check or money order in the amount of $70.00, payable to the U.S. Department of Commerce, to cover the cost of the enclosed material.

Henry Geller
[Assistant Secretary for Communications and Information, U.S. Department of Commerce]


February 22, 1979

TO: C.L. Haslam
FROM: Gregg P. Skall
SUBJECT: Carnegie Commission FOIA Request

The attached is a summary of the policy documents NTIA plans to provide to the Carnegie Commission on the Future of Public Broadcasting. As you know, this is a working document that we have prepared to aid in reviewing the requested. material. There are very few changes from the draft I sent you two weeks ago.

The summary quotes only from policy documents that are covered by the Carnegie request. Since no other material was used in its preparation, the summary represents only a condensation of roughly 10,000 pages of material, and should be understood to be only a reasonable effort to summarize that material.

There has been no attempt to comment or editorialize on the documents. We consider the summary a strictly factual, chronological accounting.

I hope this is helpful to you.

Source: Scanned from The Nixon Administration Public Broadcasting Papers: A Summary, 1969–1974, published by the National Association of Educational Broadcasters, 1979

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