'BBC World News' Returns to WNET, WLIW

BBC World News is returning to New York’s public television stations WNET and WLIW. The announcement comes just one day before the final broadcast of Worldfocus, the news program that bumped BBC World News from the stations in 2008. Worldfocus has its last broadcast tomorrow (April 2). BBC World News will be back on WNET and WLIW on Monday (April 5). It will air weeknights at 5:30 p.m. on WNET and 11 p.m. on WLIW.

The announcement also marks the final piece of the public affairs programming puzzle for WNET.org president and CEO Neal Shapiro, a veteran of broadcast news divisions at ABC and NBC. Shapiro launched Worldfocus without common carriage on PBS stations, which could have given the show a bigger audience and much better odds of securing crucial funding. It’s cancellation is a direct result of a lack of funding.

On May 7, WNET.org (the parent company of WNET and WLIW) will bow its latest public affairs program Need to Know, which will air Fridays at 8:30 p.m. Newsweek’s Jon Meacham and NPR and MSNBC veteran Alison Stewart will co-host. Need to Know has been designated common carriage by PBS, which means it will roll out on more than 90% of PBS’ 356 member stations. The show has a substantial (by PBS standards) budget; more than $10 million a year. It will originate from a two-story studio at New York’s Lincoln Center, where the rent is $1 million a year.

But the launch of Need to Know comes at the expense, at least in part, of NOW, the half-hour investigative program hosted by David Brancaccio. Bill Moyers Journal and NOW will both have their last broadcasts April 30. Moyers, 75, long ago said he intends to retire. But the cancellation of NOW continues to rankle PBS viewers who have flooded PBS with e-mails.

“The combination of these two programs concluding and a new one forming has generated many thousands of e-mails from viewers since late last year,” wrote PBS ombudsman Michael Getler in his March 25 column.

“But what seems clear …is that this is a pretty big gamble for PBS because the outpouring of letters, just to me, about the loss of Moyers and Brancaccio and their shows …is quite powerful, as is the sense or fear, as expressed by many viewers in recent months, that PBS may be pulling in its horns and shying away from controversy.”

Financial pressures at commercial news organizations has meant a dearth of investigative work, which is expensive and time-consuming. And non-profit news organizations are increasingly looked to to fill that void - or at least continue to present news without an ideological slant. 

FAIR, the progressive media watchdog group, singled out Meacham for criticism, spurring thousands more complaints. The organization described him as a “consummate purveyor of middle-of-the-road conventional wisdom with a conservative slant.”

During an interview last month, Shapiro described Meacham as someone who is not easily “pigeon-holed left or right.” He did not specifically address the cancellation of NOW.

“We had a lot of news and public affairs [programs] that kept colliding,” he said. “We weren’t organized as well as we wanted to be in terms of fund raising.”