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Study claims bias at PBS

The Public Broadcasting System, long a target of conservative criticism, has been tagged by a liberal media watchdog group as too mainstream.

Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting, or FAIR, says an analysis of six months of PBS programming found political and corporate leaders over-represented, while activists and ordinary citizens received scant attention.

The study, to be released today, concludes that, despite public TV’s stated mission to reflect the nation’s diversity and serve as a forum for differing voices, PBS fare largely toes the Establishment line.

In response to a summary of the report, PBS veep Jennifer Lawson said public TV often focuses on newsmakers, and “many of them are white males or from the Administration or business leaders.”

Lawson said PBS would likely issue a formal response to the findings after receiving the full report.

The study disputes claims that public TV has a liberal bias, concluding that:

o On public affairs programming, the use of Republican Party sources outweighed Democratic Party sources 53% to 43%.

o With the exception of “Washington Week in Review,” public television’s political talk-interview programs were the domain of conservatives William F. Buckley (“Firing Line”) and John McLaughlin (“The McLaughlin Group” and “One on One”).

Despite harsh reaction from some quarters to “Tongues Untied,” a docu about gay black men that aired on PBS two years ago, gay and lesbian activists were absent from public affairs programming in the time period studied.

Indeed, citizen activists overall accounted for only 6% of the sources heard from.

“We do air views of citizen activists when they are part of newsworthy events ,” Lawson said, “but it becomes an artifice to provide those views independent of what’s going on in the world.”

The FAIR study randomly sampled prime-time programming from 15 public TV stations in 10 cities during the first six months of 1992. It examined 15 regularly scheduled and nationally distributed public affairs programs.

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