Public Television: A Program for Action, Carnegie I, Summary, 1967

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A 15-member commission created in 1965 by a major foundation, the Carnegie Corporation of New York, released its report, Public Television: A Program for Action, on Jan. 26, 1967, popularizing the phrase “public television” and assisting the legislative campaign for federal aid to the field. Public radio was added later by Congress. [See also Carnegie I’s Membership, Preface and Introductory Note]

A Proposal to Extend and Strengthen Educational Television:
A Summary of the Commission’s Report

The Carnegie Commission on Educational Television has reached the conclusion that a well-financed and well-directed educational television system, substantially larger and far more pervasive and effective than that which now exists in the United States, must be brought into being if the full needs of the American public are to be served. This is the central conclusion of the Commission and all of its recommendations are designed accordingly.

Although our Report deals primarily with what the Commission has chosen to call Public Television rather than with instructional television, we believe it to be urgently in the public interest that both categories be extended and strengthened. We concentrate on Public Television in the conviction that this service both requires and is ready for immediate action. Instructional television, which we consider no less significant, needs intensive further study in the total context of the educational enterprise, and is the subject of a major recommendation to this end.

The programs we conceive to be the essence of Public Television are in general not economic for commercial sponsorship, are not designed for the classroom, and are directed at audiences ranging from the tens of thousands to the occasional tens of millions. No such system now exists to serve us as model, and hence we have been obliged to develop a suitable new arrangement to bring this kind of television to the country. The Commission’s proposal deals primarily with that new arrangement.

Although it provides for immediate assistance to existing stations, this is a proposal not for small adjustments or patchwork changes, but for a comprehensive system that will ultimately bring Public Television to all the people of the United States: a system that in its totality will become a new and fundamental institution in American culture.

This institution is different from any now in existence. It is not the educational television that we now know; it is not patterned after the commercial system or the British system or the Japanese system. In the course of our study, we examined all those and others: members of the staff visited Canada, England, Italy, Germany, and Sweden, and papers were commissioned on the Japanese and Russian systems. We found in many countries serious and skillful attempts to provide superior television programming, and in some countries highly successful attempts. But when such a system was successful it met the special needs of society in terms of that society’s culture and tradition, and there was little or nothing we could expect to import. We propose an indigenous American system arising out of our own traditions and responsive to our own needs.

Accordingly, the Commission submits the following recommendations for the consideration of the people of the United States, their government, and those who for two decades have created and sustained the various institutions that constitute educational television.


1. We recommend concerted efforts at the federal, state, and local levels to improve the facilities and to provide for the adequate support of the individual educational television stations and to increase their number.

An effective national educational television system must consist in its very essence of vigorous and independent local stations, adequate in number and well equipped. They should reach all parts of the country. They should be individually responsive to the needs of the local communities and collectively strong enough to meet the needs of a national audience. Each must be a product of local initiative and local support.

Many good stations exist; they must be made better. Weak stations must be provided with the kind of support which will cure and not perpetuate their weakness. All educational television stations require greatly increased resources.


2. We recommend that Congress act promptly to authorize and to establish a federally chartered, nonprofit, nongovernmental corporation, to be known as the “Corporation for Public Television.” The Corporation should be empowered to receive and disburse governmental and private funds in order to extend and improve Public Television programming. The Commission considers the creation of the Corporation fundamental to its proposal and would be most reluctant to recommend the other parts of its plan unless the corporate entity is brought into being.

The Corporation will exist to serve the local station but will neither operate it nor control it. Its primary mission will be to extend and improve Public Television programming. Programs financed by the Corporation will be made available to all stations, but each station will decide whether and when it will use the program. We stress the critical importance of having private funds available to the Corporation; such funds should be available at the outset.

3. We recommend that the Corporation support at least two national production centers, and that it be free to contract with independent producers to prepare Public Television programs for educational television stations.

One center now in being is National Educational Television, which should at once be strengthened.

4. We recommend that the Corporation support, by appropriate grants and contracts, the production of Public Television programs by local stations for more-than-local use.

The greatest practical diversity of program production sources is essential to the health of the system. Stations exist which now produce programs of interest outside their own areas, but which are in need of further financial assistance. Other stations should be encouraged to develop comparable talent and capacity.

5. We recommend that the Corporation on appropriate occasions help support local programming by local stations.

These would be low-cost programs prepared to meet the direct needs of the local community.

6. We recommend that the Corporation provide the educational television system as expeditiously as possible with facilities for live interconnection by conventional means, and that it be enabled to benefit from advances in technology as domestic communications satellites are brought into being. The Commission further recommends that Congress act to permit the granting of preferential rates for educational television for the use of interconnection facilities, or to permit their free use, to the extent that this may not be possible under existing law.

The Corporation has the responsibility for the distribution of programs. Public Television can never be a national enterprise until effective interconnection has been provided both in order to distribute programs to educational television stations promptly and economically and to provide for live regional or national broadcasts when the occasion demands. The interconnection of stations should make the best of each community available to all communities.

7. We recommend that the Corporation encourage and support research and development leading to the improvement of programming and program production.

Public Television should be free to experiment and should sponsor research centers where persons of high talent can engage in experimentation. The kind of experimentation once sponsored by the Ford Foundation TV-Radio Workshop is an example of what we are reaching for.

8. We recommend that the Corporation support technical experimentation designed to improve the present television technology.

Intensive research and development could make possible significant improvements in picture quality or savings in frequency spectrum.

9. We recommend that the Corporation undertake to provide means by which technical, artistic, and specialized personnel may be recruited and trained.

The Corporation should sponsor fellowship programs designed to attract talented persons into in-service training programs and into its research centers. In addition, it should provide stipends for senior fellows — men and women of talent and experience — to enable them to spend periods of residence at the various centers.


10. We recommend that Congress provide the federal funds required by the Corporation through a manufacturer’s excise tax on television sets (beginning at 2 percent and rising to a ceiling of 5 percent). The revenues should be made available to the Corporation through a trust fund.

In this manner a stable source of financial support would be assured. We would free the Corporation to the highest degree from the annual governmental budgeting and appropriations procedures: the goal we seek is an instrument for the free communication of ideas in a free society.

The excise tax will provide the Corporation with approximately $40 million of federal funds during its first year of operation, rising gradually to a level of $100 million a year. We propose that the rate be raised to 3 percent, bringing in $60 million, after the first year. The Commission intends these revenues to be added to those available from other federal, local, and private sources to be used primarily for the support of programming for Public Television. We recommend that federal agencies continue to make grants to educational television stations for special purposes.

11. We recommend new legislation to enable the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare to provide adequate facilities for stations now in existence, to assist in increasing the number of stations to achieve nationwide coverage, to help support the basic operations of all stations, and to enlarge the support of instructional television programming.

The Commission views the responsibility of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare as that of providing the basic facilities and operating funds for a national system of educational television stations. The Corporation, in contrast, will direct its attention to programming and related activities delineated in previous recommendations which are aimed to provide a new kind of Public Television for national and local audiences. The responsibility for instructional television for formal classroom use does not lie within the purview of the Corporation, but rather with state and local educational systems and the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. The Commission urges, as an interim measure, extension and amplification of the Educational Television Facilities Act of 1962, which has been of critical assistance in expanding educational television.


12. We recommend that federal, state, local, and private educational agencies sponsor extensive and innovative studies intended to develop better insights into the use of television in formal and informal education.

The Commission believes that the Public Television system it proposes will benefit the content of instructional television. But the Commission also believes that instructional television must be studied in the full context of education, and that further major investments in instructional television must benefit from the discovery of ways in which television can best contribute to the educational process. In addition to universities, nonprofit corporations and the stations themselves, some of the Regional Educational Laboratories contemplated in Title IV of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 might be appropriate agencies to conduct the necessary programs of research and development.

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