PBS challenge for conservatives: submit content

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by Chris Brass

Public Broadcasting has a reputation of being a liberal station, but the truth is that I don’t see it completely that way.

I would admit that it leans in that direction, even in the case of the local station, but after working with the staff as a volunteer and being on the Community Advisory Board for the past two years I can say without a doubt that I believe that the station and it’s staff do attempt to be impartial in their production and in the programs that they provide.

I see things a little differently however.

PBS airs the content that is provided to it.  The truth of the matter is that any individual can create a program and provide it to the station for broadcast and the list of items that they review is short and simple.

  1. Production Quality – They will have their name attached to it, they want to ensure that the product does not have the appearance of a fourteen year old with a camcorder editing it in imovies. You can’t blame them for that – neither does ABC, CBS, NBC or FOX.  Production quality goes a long way in holding a viewers attention.
  2. Meeting FCC Regulations – Any program that is broadcast over airwaves needs to meet this qualification. Although it is a bit relaxed as evidenced by some programs on the major networks, PBS does have a tendency to be a little stricter in some areas and less in other when pertaining to context.  The first naked woman that I ever saw was on PBS and that was back in the early 70’s when they aired “The World at War”, a documentary on WWII and some photographs of the tragedies of the holocaust was discussed.  Personally, in that context I don’t feel that nudity was intended to be provocative and am willing to give ANY network a pass when used in such context.  But I degrees….
  3. It’s not a commercial – PBS will not air a program about how great Tide detergent works.  They will do programs about how Tide compares to Sun and Arm & Hammer, provided other criteria are met.
  4. There can be no conflict in interest in sponsorship – This relates to several things, the obvious is that they won’t do a program about how Tide, Coke and GM compare to their counterparts when the underwriter is…  Yep, you guessed it, Tide, Coke and GM.  Especially when the underwriters do seem to always come out on top.  They shy away from the local Car Dealership sponsoring Motor Week, because often the dealership will often have a car that is discussed in the program.  It opens up the door to potential conflicts there, and the network (and station) does do what it can to be above reproach in these areas.  That doesn’t mean that Napa, or some other parts store can’t underwrite the program, but the programs know they can’t (or shouldn’t anyway) refer to a parts store by name for this reason.
  5. Can they find underwriters for the program – This is more often then not the responsibility of the producers.  It does cost the station money to broadcast it, and although it is a non-profit organization, they still have overhead with paying staff, rent, subscription fees and other items.

The truth is that Mike Huckabee, for example, could produce a program at the Fox studio. He would then need to ensure that the production quality is high enough, the broadcast rights are granted to PBS to broadcast and he would need to find sponsorships and underwriters for the program (more often then not, at the corporate level, but grants and trust funds are often used too). If he did those things, the station would broadcast it, provided that there wasn’t a conflict of interest with the underwriters.  Fox News Corp couldn’t underwrite it because it was produced in their studio so they have a conflict of interest, the local Political Party couldn’t underwrite it for obvious reasons, but if the underwriting is there, it will get broadcast.

So the truth is that when talking about bias in the network, the primary reason why none is being aired when talking about social and political issues, the vast majority of the material submitted are by individuals who view things at that perspective.  Programs such as Democracy Now, To the Contrary, and other programs which discuss social and political issues with just a single host and a panel of like minded people are often the ones that get submitted – so the best ones get aired.  When dealing at the local level station, they encourage the producers to get as much local content as possible in there, but like the idea of having national appeal as well for possible syndication with the network (which also earns the station money as well).

I hope to eventually see a program on our local PBS station which does view social and political issues from a conservative standpoint and it’s an opinion that I’ve made abundantly clear to the station and Community Advisory Board.  I do think that a program like that would do the station, and network, some good because many people in the Southern Oregon, Northern California region would be able to relate to it.

Well…  That and I’m pretty sure that it would really torque some people off too.

Chris Brass is a Southern Oregon Public Television Community Advisory Board Member