PBS prexy defends fairness

Mitchell confirms pubcaster not under political influence

WASHINGTON — Public broadcasting must — and will — remain free of political influence, PBS prexy Pat Mitchell declared Tuesday.

“PBS is not the property of any single political party or activist group or foundation or funder with an agenda of any kind,” Mitchell said in a speech at the National Press Club.

“Our editorial standards ensure it, and public opinion polls verify it,” she continued. “PBS does not belong to a red or blue or purple constituency, and it does not shrink in the face of political threats.

“PBS has built and maintained a steadfast resolve to never give in to pressures to reflect a political agenda. That resolve is as rock solid today as it has ever been,” she asserted.

Some conservatives — most notably Ken Tomlinson, chairman of the Corp. for Public Broadcasting, which provides funding for PBS — have criticized public broadcasting as having a liberal bias. Similarly, some liberals have criticized PBS in recent years for allegedly kowtowing to conservatives, as in the network’s recent decision not to air an episode of a children’s show that featured a lesbian couple.

While not mentioning Tomlinson or any other particular critics, Mitchell was clearly responding to allegations of bias, saying PBS is “that one place where education comes before titillation, where partisanship is checked at the newsroom door and, above all, is a media option that measures success by how many minds we open, how many lives we change, how many ways we strengthen communities and how well we serve this democracy.”

Asked specifically after her remarks whether Tomlinson was trying to exert political influence on programming, Mitchell replied that she believes Tomlinson’s publicly stated intent, which is to expand PBS’ appeal to more viewers and supporters. But she reiterated a point she and others have made recently about polls showing that the majority of PBS viewers — including many who identified themselves as conservatives — perceive public broadcasting as unbiased.

Mitchell also highlighted initiatives meant to help keep PBS bankrolled and competitive. The org has started a foundation to solicit major donations; it secured its first gift recently from the Ford Foundation, which ponied up $10 million. Another project, called the Digital Future Initiative, involves a panel of experts studying ways to develop new types of content for public broadcasting.