CPB CEO defends new policy for diversity reporting

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CPB President and CEO Pat Harrison, right, with Anne Brachman, SVP of external affairs, testifies during a 2017 House appropriations hearing.

CPB’s new policy for station grantees balances the corporation’s mandate to support diversity in public media within prevailing constitutional standards, CEO Patricia Harrison wrote in a letter to Texas Sen. Cruz.

Harrison’s Dec. 22 letter responded to Sen. Cruz’s earlier inquiry, which questioned the legality of CPB’s rules for diversity practices and disclosures by stations in its Community Service Grant program. 

Cruz, the ranking Republican on the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, challenged the constitutionality of the policy after the CPB board adopted new reporting rules for stations in October. His Dec. 8 letter to Harrison was released publicly Dec. 11 and set a Dec. 22 deadline for CPB to respond.

The Senate Commerce committee has jurisdiction over CPB’s authorization. 

Cruz claimed in his letter that CPB has “misconstrued” its diversity mandate “to restrict its community service grants (‘CSGs’) to stations that strive to be ‘diverse’ by considering traits like race and ethnicity in hiring and workforce development.” Cruz also pressed Harrison to answer questions about CPB’s funding for ITVS and its objectivity in programming.  

The CSG program’s new policy and its previous one “do not require any unlawful employment preferences or quotas,” Harrison wrote in her response to Cruz. 

The diversity rules “are no more discriminatory than the policies for federal agencies with which CPB, as a private corporation, voluntarily complies,” Harrison added. “Hiring decisions are still based on non-discriminatory selection of the best qualified applicants. Moreover, CPB has never denied a CSG to a station based on its diversity requirements.”

Among other changes, the revised policy dropped a requirement that stations publish a 500-word statement reflecting on elements of diversity that are important to their public service. 

Instead CSG grantees are now required to publish a “Community Representation Statement” that documents support of their goals and plans to “reflect” their communities in station employment, on their boards and in other aspects of the station’s service, according to the policy. 

Harrison cited several reasons for the policy change: 

  • Audits by CPB’s Inspector General found that several stations were not complying with “non-substantive” requirements of the earlier policy 
  • The policy “​​unnecessarily overlapped existing FCC and [Equal Employment Opportunity Commission] requirements, as well as CPB’s civil rights enforcement responsibilities” 
  • New state laws on diversity, equity and inclusion “could potentially disqualify state-owned public media stations from accepting CSG funds.” 

In his letter, Cruz criticized the CPB board’s deliberations over diversity standards for CSG recipients during its October meeting, saying the directors “openly discuss circumventing civil rights laws to allow for unlawful discrimination.” He cited an exchange in which the directors asked about the implications of the new policy. 

Harrison defended the CPB directors, saying they performed their fiduciary duties under the board’s code of ethics, which include “Loyalty, Care, and Candor” in decision-making. 

“The excerpts of the Board’s October 2023 discussion cited in your letter reflect the Directors’ Care and Candor in responsibly considering the potential impact of state DEI laws as well as the Supreme Court’s decision in Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard on the 2011 CSG diversity policy,” Harrison wrote.

“The Board’s full discussion of the issue and of management’s recommendation reflect no discriminatory intent or consequences,” she added. 

Cruz also questioned whether CPB is obligated to fund ITVS — it is — and whether ITVS “adheres to ‘objectivity and balance?’” He pointed to an “Impact” statement on ITVS’ website that says the organization is “[i]nspiring audiences to take action.”

In her response, Harrison wrote that Congress founded ITVS “to bring more balanced programming to public television by reflecting voices and visions of underrepresented communities and addressing the needs of underserved audiences, particularly minorities and children.” It has funded documentaries from producers “who take creative risks, explore complex issues, and express points of view that are seldom aired on television. These point-of-view documentaries are inherently and qualitatively different from news reporting that strives for the objectivity contemplated in Section § 396(g)(1)(A) of the Communications Act of 1934.”

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