Markey, Schumer Call For Tomlinson Resignation

Flanked by cute PBS kids show characters and even cuter kids holding signs, and fronted by more than a dozen cardboard boxes containing what was billed as a million signed petitions telling Congress to keep its hands off of public TV funding, Rep. Ed Markey said Tuesday he and his fellow Democrats and public TV supporters were ready to confront what he called Republican efforts to destroy public TV.

He also called for the resignation of Corporation for Public Broadcasting Chairman Ken Tomlinson, who he said has abetted an attack on the service, particularly kids shows, that he was appointed to protect. Elsewhere, Senator Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) planned to hold a news conference to announce an effort by a number of Senators urging the President to fire Tomlinson.

Markey took aim at commercial TV, reading out a list of daytime shows, form Jerry Springer and Maury to Divorce Court and Fear Factor (syndicated runs), saying commercial broadcasters don't provide kids programming for most of the day because, as the networks have told him, it isn't profitable.

What was billed as an emergency rally on the steps of the Cannon House Office Building was prompted by the decision by a couple of House appropriations committees last week to curt back by $100 million on funds already earmarked for CPB in 2006 and to cut entirely another $100 million. The latter by zeroing out funding for the Ready to Learn kids TV grants--Buster, Arthur, Sesame Street--and money for the digital switch and for the satellite interconnection services that help PBS to deliver its programming to stations.

The event was primarily a media opportunity, and arguably mostly a photo-op at that. That's because while the microphones did not seem to be attached to any amplifying equipment, the pictures opportunities abounded, everything from Senator Clinton with kids TV activist Peggy Charren to you-name-them with a Big Red Clifford (the guy/gal inside was probably turning red from the heat) or about a dozen cute kids holding handmade signs that said things like "Don't Can Oscar," Don't Hurt Bert," and Don't Cut Clifford.

There was even Rep. Nita Lowey, Democrat--they were all Democrats--from New York, with a Bert muppet on one hand and an Ernie on the other. She used the same props in the House Appropriations hearing that resulted in the cuts.

Others joining Markey on the steps of the Cannon House Office Building were Reps. Maurice Hinchey (D-N.Y.), John Dingell (D-Mich.), Anna Eshoo (D-Cali.). Louise Slaughter (D-Calif.)Association of Public Television Stations President John Lawson, and WETA chief Sharon Rockefeller, though she did not speak. Also represented were, National PTA, Free Press, Common Cause, the United Church of Christ, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry,

Hinchey invited Republicans across the country to join the protest, saying he didn't believe Republicans in Washington were truly representing them.

Senator Clinton used the opportunity both to praise public TV and bury commercial, talking of the sex and violence on commercial TV that does not reflect many families' values.

Dingell called the budget-cutting Republicans "scoundrels," and exhorted his audience to "give them the drubbing of their life."

Markey ended the pep rally by reminding his audience that Republicans had tried--unsuccessfully--to destroy public broadcasting in 1995, had apparently forgotten that lesson, and now needed to be "ready to learn" all over again.

Markey would not say what he thought the prospects of the cuts would be on the House floor, or in the Senate, where previous cuts have been restored. But he did say to expect another million petitions next week, and suggested there would be a "rump" (informal) meeting of Republicans by this time Wednesday to figure out how to restore the money.

The House is expected to take up the bill Thursday.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.