PBS’ Duggan speaks out

Ervin Duggan, the FCC commissioner turned PBS president, said Wednesday he envisions running a network that presents “a clash of ideas,” whereby both conservativesand liberals will feel welcome.

Duggan, an FCC member since 1990, made his remarks in an interview after being named the fourth president in PBS history. He will take the PBS reins Feb. 1.

Replacing Christensen

The post has been vacant since the August departure of Bruce Christensen, who left after a nine-year stint to take a position with Brigham Young University.

During Christensen’s tenure, public TV came in for harsh criticism from the right for having an alleged “liberal bias,” with Senate minority leader Robert Dole (R-Kan.) as one of the industry’s biggest antagonists.

Political spectrum

The new PBS chieftain said he believes “conservatives should feel ownership and enthusiasm” for PBS as much as liberals.

“Public broadcasting should not be the ideological preserve of one political camp or another,” he said.

Duggan, 54, was nominated by President Bush to the FCC post, and is regarded as a moderate Democrat.

Criticized ‘coarsening’

He has frequently spoken out against broadcast indecency and also has lamented the “coarsening” of American culture.

Duggan’s term at the FCC was set to expire in June. However, given his long-standing acquaintance with President Clinton, itseems likely he would have been reappointed to the agency had he so desired.

In his remarks, Duggan sought to dispel a commonly held belief espoused by pubcasting critics that PBS has been rendered obsolete by the proliferation of cable networks such as the Discovery Channel and Nickelodeon.

Such a notion is “myth parading as profundity,” claimed Duggan.

“No way is cable an effective substitute for public broadcasting,” he said, noting that only 60% of households subscribe to cable.

Duggan called public TV a “seedbed for innovation” in television, claiming that new cable launches such as the TV Food Network would not have been possible without PBS’ backing of Julia Child.

Duggan, who will earn an annual salary of $ 148,800, said he’s delaying taking the job for two months to give the White House time to name an FCC successor.

Working for unity

A self-described “policy wonk,” Duggan said he hopes to be a consensus builder at PBS.

He said he has no interest in shifting PBS programming into “warmed-over fare from the networks.”

He hopes to lure John Hollar, his FCC legal assistant, into joining him at PBS.

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