Rock ’n roll pilgrimage

Admired series disappears into copyright limbo
Followup, 2008

The series contained so many musical clips that the producers apparently didn’t want to spend what it would take to extend their broadcast rights. For years, as a result, the series has not been available for broadcast or for purchase on DVD or videocassette. As a result, PBS’s online store began selling videos of Time-Warner’s rock history series not originally made for public TV, The History of Rock ‘N Roll. New York Times critic John O’Connor preferred the BBC/WGBH series. Buying extensive new rights to resume broadcasts of the famed doc series Eyes on the Prizecost hundreds of thousands of dollars in 2006.

Dear Impresario: Let’s recreate PBS as the citizens’ channel

In 1995, Current asked three of public TV’s highly regarded program-makers to write “Dear Impresario” letters to the next chief programmer at PBS — a position then vacant. Danny Schechter is the executive producer of Globalvision Inc., producers of Rights & Wrongs: Human Rights Television, which the previous PBS programmer, Jennifer Lawson, had declined to distribute. PBS’s future rests on a “vision thing.” We all know that systems generally are resistant to change, and that managers of most of our most venerable and vulnerable enterprises tend to be risk-adverse and prudent, seeking to be safe rather than sorry. Yet as we look at the landscape of modern life, we can see the wreckage of those institutions that clung to old ways of thinking and doing in a turbulent world.

The plans that went to Congress

Here are brutally shortened summaries of proposals in the two funding plans that went to Congress in spring 1995: “Common Sense for the Future” from CPB, and “The Road to Self-Sufficiency” from the quartet of the public stations’ major national organizations, APTS, NPR, PBS and PRI. CPB

Trust fund

Recommends a trust fund and says it has examined options for financing it, but doesn’t name them. “We look forward to exploring these and any other alternatives Congress may suggest to make such a trust fund viable.” A temporary financing mechanism would build up trust fund until it becomes large enough to pay out sufficient annual interest. As payout grows, federal appropriations could decline.

Two separate funding plans go up to the Hill

Pubcasters have given Congress two separate proposals for future funding of the field: one from CPB and the other a joint effort backed by APTS, NPR, PBS and Public Radio International. [Comparative summary.]

Both proposals took a dim view of the revenue potential of on-air advertising and placed greater hope in further enhancement of underwriting. But they diverged on several matters, with CPB detailing cost-saving proposals that will be controversial among some stations. Congress makes moderate cuts in CPB appropriations already passed
A House-Senate conference committee answered two of the questions hanging over public broadcasting: $275 million next year and $260 million the year after. For comparison, CPB funding this year is $285.6 million.

Feds reconsider PTFP grant policy questioned by Sen. Helms

After questioning by Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), the National Telecommunications and Information Administration has begun an internal review of its refusal of equipment grants to a North Carolina public radio station that carries 90 minutes of church programming on Sundays. Since early this year, NTIA has been threatening to rescind a $175,000 grant to Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, N.C., for tower reconstruction at WFDD-FM, the university’s NPR-member station. NTIA grants officer George White told the university in a March 21 letter that it could receive the grant only if it dropped the religious programming, according to Helms.

Helms, a friend of Wake Forest President Thomas K. Hearn, intervened April 27 with a letter to NTIA Administrator Larry Irving, questioning the decision. As long as NTIA’s Public Telecommunications Facilities Program exists, Helms said, ”qualified recipients should not be discriminated against for broadcasting, once a week, a Sunday school and church service.”

NTIA this month informed the station that its grant decision was on hold and will be reviewed by the agency. It was not clear at Current press time whether NTIA was reviewing its broader policy rejecting grant requests from other public radio stations that carry some religious programming.

Carlson disavows Duggan’s strong attack on advertising

PBS President Ervin Duggan’s strongly worded opposition to advertising created a public rift in the “presidents group” that has been coordinating relations with Congress. In a speech April 11, Duggan said that public TV, if deprived of federal aid, would be tempted to turn to advertising, which he compared to prostitution. The right-wing <em>Washington Times</em> promptly headlined, “PBS chief portrays Republicans as cruel pimps of privatization,” which upset some Republicans including House Appropriations Chairman Robert Livingston (La). “I really can’t discuss this,” CPB President Richard Carlson told the newspaper later, “but we’re trying to do serious work here and I wish people would stop making speeches like this.”

Carlson called Livingston to disassociate himself from Duggan’s remarks, the <em>Times</em> reported, and sent a similar note to the CPB Board. Duggan meanwhile complained to the <em>Times</em> that its reporter had “deliberately distorted” his speech, which “attacked no one” and was not disrespectful.