Corporate sector overwhelmingly dominates public TV governing boards A recent essay in Harper's (10/14) roiled the waters at PBS by arguing that public television is too often geared towards serving the "aging upper class: their tastes, their pet agendas, their centrist politics."
Perhaps that's no surprise. A new FAIR study finds that the trustees of major public television stations are overwhelmingly drawn from the corporate sector.
Out of 182 trustees surveyed on five station boards, 152--or 84 percent--have corporate backgrounds. Among these corporate-affiliated members, 138 are executives at elite businesses, while another 14 appear to be trustees because of their families' corporate-derived wealth. Seventy-five of the corporate-affiliated trustees are executives from the financial industry; 24 are corporate lawyers.
--Academics, the second-most common occupation represented on boards, constituted only nine trustees. Journalists, educators, artists and leaders of nonprofit groups (excluding family grant-making foundations) were virtually absent from boards.
--The current board chairs of the five public stations all come from the corporate sector.
--David Koch, the billionaire oil executive and prominent right-wing donor, currently serves as a trustee at Boston's WGBH.
--A majority of the trustees--116, or 64 percent--are male.
Public television is intended to provide a voice for the voiceless, and to reflect America in all its diversity. But that mission is contradicted when public stations' decision-making power is vested in the wealthiest members of society.
One way public television could better fulfill its historic mission would be to seek out more inclusive leadership. As FAIR editor Jim Naureckas put it:
Ideally, we'd like to see people who have some expertise in what public television is supposed to be doing--educators, nonprofit journalists, filmmakers, academics--as well as people who represent communities that have been poorly served by commercial broadcasting: people who come out of movements for civil rights, women, labor, consumers, the disabled, environmentalists and so on. Those are the kinds of boards you need to produce public television that lives up to its mission.
The study, authored by FAIR researcher Aldo Guerrero, appears in the October 2014 issue of FAIR's magazine Extra!.