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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.

The five public television stations in the study serve some of the largest metropolitan areas in the United States. WNET (New York City/Newark) and WTTW (Chicago) have the most trustees with corporate backgrounds, each at 92 percent. KCET (Los Angeles) has 80 percent corporate representation, while WETA (Washington, DC) has 73 percent. Two-thirds of WGBH's board is corporate-affiliated. Other notable findings:

--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!.



Jim in Florida
10/11/2014 6:09am

Just my two cents on this. I remember when PBS came out. The original idea, as I remember, was that it would be the voice of the Great Society and the New Deal. Both of which were class-oriented broadcasting and views. That's what PBS should go back to. I also remember that it was supposed to be PUBLICLY FUNDED by the government and local donors to their respective PBS affiliate. Yes, corporate donors came along in the 1970's but, it was kept under wraps and those donors did not adversely impact the content of PBS programming.

The only good thing about catering to The 1% is that PBS became very polished. That's a good thing. What is needed now is a content overhaul and inclusion of shows that reintroduce the rhetoric of the New Deal and Great Society into the mass mind. It is impossible to cater to every niche group and would ruin PBS by trying to do so. The New Deal and Great Society are sufficient organizing principles for program content.

There has to be a collective idea that draws the unserved together while presenting their cause in a compelling way to the bourgeoisie viewers, who are often in a position to do something about it. While President Obama has some Democrat support in Congress, he should push to set standards on where PBS gets its corporate sponsorship funding. No more Koch Brothers or Exxon-Mobil! Only corporate donors who serve a public interest should be funding PBS and all of these ad spots need to be greatly reduced to end-of-show credits. The Federal Government and State Governments should provide the rest.

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