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 V.14 No.41 | October 13 - 19, 2005 

News Commentary

Something Stinks in CPB Land

New leadership at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting promises an interesting ride

On the heels of a leadership rearrangement at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), last month two Republican activists were appointed as chair and vice-chair. On the board of eight, charged with managing America's public television and radio, only two Democrats remain.

You may remember the last chair of the CPB, Kenneth Y. Tomlinson, who last year hired a private investigator to watch for liberal bias on public TV and called for more conservative programming. Ironically, the CPB is now under investigation by its own Inspector General for partisanship in policy and procedure.

While Tomlinson remains on the board, newly appointed chair Cheryl Halpern is idealogically the same as Tomlinson. According to Mother Jones, Halpern, along with her husband, was one of the top 100 Republican cash donors in the last election. She has both criticized National Public Radio for being biased--specifically concerning Israel--and has called for the removal of reporters accused of editorializing the news; yet making decisions regarding content is explicitly out of bounds for the CPB.

The new vice-chair of CPB is Gay Hart Gaines, an interior decorator and former member and chair of GOPAC, a political action committee once headed by Newt Gingrich. Gaines and her husband have contributed approximately half a million dollars to the Republican Party since '98. That's according to The Nation, which also pointed out that Gaines is “a leading official of an outfit that advised Republican candidates to brand Democrats ’traitors.' She now is in a position to search for bias in public radio and public television programming.”

Additionally, Republicans in Congress have recently attempted to reduce or eliminate funding for PBS and NPR, a proposition supported by commercial broadcasters that has surfaced throughout the past decade. Now, the Republican effort is citing budget strains related to the Hurricane Katrina relief effort. For now, however, funding seems secure.

The combination of these issues of governance and funding prompted FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting) to call for complete defunding of CPB earlier this month. FAIR indicated that leadership at CPB was so corrupt that it undermined public programming meant to serve the underserved. The organization called on stations to seek independent funding sources.

Locally, the CPB provides 9.4 percent of funding for KNME TV, and 15 percent of KUNM-FM's funding. Both stations indicated that losing CPB funding would be a blow, but would not end operations. Instead, smaller stations, particularly radio stations in poorer, rural and reservation areas around the state could be forced off of the air because those stations have little, if any, listener support and underwriting.

Regarding CPB changes, Joanne Bachmann, KNME's associate general manager, said, “We do not anticipate any particular impact on KNME operations from this latest round of changes.”

Marcos Martinez, the programming director at KUNM, pointed out that the government subsidizes commercial broadcasters who pay nothing to use publicly-owned airwaves and to make enormous profits. “Cutting the funding isn't going to help public broadcasting redefine its mission. Every public broadcasting station is a local, independent station, and so while it's appropriate to have a national discussion, local communities are where those discussions really need to take place.” Martinez said that though public broadcasters receive limited funding from the federal government, that doesn't come close to evening things up.

The full report of the Inspector General's investigation of the CPB is expected next month. More attempts to kill public broadcasting are expected. Tune in to check out public broadcasting's struggle for survival in the Republican Era.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author. E-mail cassyle@alibi.com.

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