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PBS Chief Talks Charlie Rose, Tavis Smiley, #MeToo

PBS in recent months parted ways with two of its highest-profile on-air personalities, Charlie Rose and Tavis Smiley, amid sexual-misconduct allegations. Speaking Tuesday at the Television Critics Association’s winter press tour, PBS chief executive Paula Kerger addressed both departures as well as the #MeToo movement against sexual harassment and assault.

“When we are aware of issues, we’ll move quickly, as we did with Charlie Rose, as we did [with] Tavis Smiley,” Kerger said.

PBS canceled Rose’s long-running late-night talk show in November following a Washington Post story that revealed a years-long pattern of alleged sexual misconduct directed at employees of his independent production company. Smiley’s own talk show was canceled in December after an investigation commissioned by PBS found credible allegations that Smiley had engaged in sexual relationships with multiple subordinates at his company.

Under its model, PBS distributes independently produced programs but does not employ any of the personnel who work on those programs.

“That does not absolve us from the responsibility of trying to ensure that we are supporting a culture where people are respected,” Kerger said. She added that PBS has long had internal policies and mechanisms — including a hotline to anonymously report misconduct — in place to address inappropriate workplace behavior. The public broadcaster recently put in place a new policy that requires annual training for employees on workplace behavior, a shift Kerger said was instituted prior to Rose and Smiley’s shows being canceled.

“In terms of our outside producers and our stations, again, that’s a little more complicated, because they’re separate organizations,” she said. “But I think we can be even clearer on our expectations of how those organizations function. Finally when we are aware of issues, we’ll move quickly, as we did with Charlie Rose, as we did [with] Tavis Smiley.”

Kerger said that PBS first became aware of allegations against Rose the morning that the Washington Post story was published. The process leading to the cancellation of Smiley’s show began with an internal investigation that, Kerger said, was prompted when PBS received a complaint about Smiley.

Smiley has since claimed that he met with PBS executives and attorneys but was not given specific details of the allegations against him.

“That investigation, by the way, included quite a lengthy interview with [Smiley] and was based on multiple allegations of inappropriate behavior as well as his own words about what happened,” Kerger said, factors that “led to the decision to suspend his series.”

As Variety reported last month, investigators hired by PBS took reports from 10 witnesses, a mix of men and women of different races and employment levels in Smiley’s organization, most of them former staffers.

Rose’s widely distributed talk show ran in most markets at 11 p.m. In the wake of its cancellation, PBS has adopted an interim schedule in the time period that includes Christiane Amanpour’s interview program — also broadcast twice a day on CNN International — at 11 p.m. and the BBC’s “Beyond 100 Days” at 11:30 p.m. Kerger indicated Tuesday that PBS is working toward a permanent plan for the time period, one that may involve Amanpour.

“Charlie Rose was on the air for 25 years,” Kerger said. “I think we have a moment to think very hard about what we want to do at 11 o’clock on public broadcasting, so we’re looking at a lot of different possibilities,” adding that “Christiane Amanpour will be a part” of the options considered.

On Tuesday, PBS announced the launch of an upcoming series “#MeToo, Now What?” focusing on sexual harassment.

“What we’ve observed in the discussions thus far is that there is a lot of discussion about Hollywood and a lot of the stories that continue to mushroom out,” Kerger said. “But it’s a much bigger problem that touches every economic level and every industry.” The new series is intended as “a way to begin talking to one another and begin doing so in real time.”

Kerger also on Tuesday addressed funding for public broadcasting, noting that budget bills in the Senate and the House of Representatives include full or near-full funding. When a final budget is passed, she said, “We are hopeful that it will have full funding for public broadcasting.”

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