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Mitchell Declares PBS' Independence

Public Broadcasting Service President Pat Mitchell told a National Press Club audience Tuesday that PBS "does not shrink in the face of political threats," and is more important than ever in a world where "a small number of media conglomerates make decisions based on the need to earn higher profits."

PBS has taken heat for declining to distribute an episode of kids show Postcards from Buster that featured a lesbian couple. The Department of Education, which is the show's primary funder, also took issue with the episode, though PBS maintains the decision was its own.

Both noncommercial TV and radio have also been under pressure from Corporation for Public Broadcasting Board Chairman Kenneth Tomlinson to provide more conservative viewpoints to balance liberal shows. Last fall, according to Tomlinson, he and Mitchell disagreed over his plan to have an independent monitor on the content of Now with Bill Moyers.

Moyers eventually left and, though the show continues, PBS added a CPB-funded conservative show that Tomlinson has said provides sufficient balance to obviate the need for an independent content monitor, though two ombudsmen have been hired to respond to criticisms of content generally.

“PBS is not the property of any single political party or activist group or foundation or funder with an agenda of any kind,” Mitchell planned told her audience. “Our editorial standards ensure it, and public opinion polls verify it.

"PBS does not belong to a red or blue or purple constituency, and it does not shrink in the face of political threats. PBS has built and maintained a steadfast resolve to never give in to pressures to reflect a political agenda.  That resolve is as rock solid today as it has ever been.”
Asked specifically about pressure from Tomlinson, Mitchell said she takes him at his word that he is trying  to widen the base of support at public broadcasting, but she insisted that PBS viewer surveys show that an overwhelming majority views PBS as a trusted source of balanced news. "The facts do not support the case [Tomlinson]  makes," for liberal bias, she said.
One thing that Mitchell and Tomlinson do agree on is funding. "We've got to find new sources of support for public television or we can't continue," Tomlinson told B&C last week

Mitchell planned to make the same point about the challenge of finding funding, asking: “Are we, as a democracy that is dependent upon having informed and engaged communities, willing to commit additional resources to ensure a vibrant, viable and independent public service media enterprise now and in the future?”--Bill McConnell contributed to this report.