Friday, March 30, 2007

Keep the politicians out of PBS, please

(see update at bottom)

From today's"Elsewhere on the Web" roundup...

Leaders of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus met with public TV executives on Tuesday to discuss their concerns about the absence of Latino-American veterans in The War, Ken Burns' 14-hour World War II documentary series slated for a PBS debut in September. Lawmakers may try to restrict pubTV's federal funding if PBS doesn't address their concerns, according to Politico, a newspaper and website covering the Washington, D.C., political scene. "The bottom line is we also have the right to do what we can economically with PBS to show our displeasure," said Rep. Ciro Rodriguez (D-Texas). "I hope it won't come to that."

(emphasis added)

I try to stay away from politics in this blog. Certainly anyone who knows me knows I'm obnoxiously political enough in person...I don't need to infect the blogosphere, too. But this hits close to home so I'll allow myself the indulgence.

Anyways, my simple retort to Rep. Rodriguez is: No, you don't have that right.

One of the founding principles of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) was to isolate PBS and NPR from political influence. In other words, you can't let politicians decide what gets on the air. Because when the pol you like gets his/her way this week on the air... the pol you hate gets it next week.

Generally speaking I don't like the idea of Congress managing anything (yes, even wars) through the purse strings. Either pass a law regulating something a certain way or just leave it the hell alone. Legislating through budgeting might be politically proper...but there's just something about it that feels wishy-washy to me. Like avoiding responsibility by adding a layer of deniability to the whole thing. "We're not REALLY telling you what to put on the air, we're just telling you we'll destroy your entire budget if you don't put what we want on the air." To a journalist, that's called a "chilling effect" and there's a reason why any competent news agency works hard to avoid it.

We now return to the usual blog posts that lay off the political rants. :-)

UPDATE: Current is reporting that several groups are protesting this issue, and that the Albuquerque Journal has an editorial protesting Burns' not including more Latinos in The War. This I can completely get behind. These people feel they have a legitimate gripe, and they're spreading the word about it. I welcome such things, even though I have no opinion on the subject since I really don't know enough about Latino involvement in World War II to form a coherent opinion (for the record, I'm inclined to agree with the protesters, but I also tend to think of Burns as a pretty thorough guy when it comes to documentaries).

My original chief gripe here is that people were (are?) trying to "pull an end run" around PBS by going to Congress and using scare tactics about PBS's budget. Have we learned nothing from the supposed efforts towards "balance" by Ken Tomlinson? Politicians make poor editorial gatekeepers - they're too beholden to popular public opinion. Instead, write letters to the editor. Produce your own documentary. Make complaints to PBS management and/or their ombudsman. But please, for ALL our sakes, keep Congress out of it!


Anonymous said...

Great idea but it may be just a bit late. KEEP politics out of PBS? You're joking, right?

Aaron Read said...

Heh, I guess I should've said "Keep the POLITICIANS out of PBS". Just updated the post.