PBS Adds Ombudsman

Following in the footsteps of other public broadcasting entities, and many print publications, PBS Tuesday said it will hire an ombudsman.

National Public Radio has employed an ombudsman since 2000 and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting added a pair of ombudsmen in April, though the latter move has drawn criticism from some quarters.

That's because the use of ombudsmen to investigate audience complaints about programming and to pursue their own reviews of editorial standards come amid cahrges of the politicizing of public broadcasting under CPB Chairman Ken Tomlinson.

Depending on where you stand, public broadcasting suffers from either a liberal bias in need of balancing or unjustified interference from GOP lawmakers trying to remake it in a conservative model.

Whichever side a viewer is on, if either, they will now have an ombudsman to complain to , who will report directly to PBS President Pat Mitchell. The ombudsman proposal has been in the works since at least last fall, according to a PBS spokeswoman.

“PBS has been contemplating adding an ombudsman to the PBS staff for quite some time,” Mitchell said. “Our goal is to provide a public way for us to listen to our viewers. The ombudsman will have a free hand to determine what he or she examines.”

The PBS board also voted to update the organization's Editorial Standards and Policies, which guide programming and content development. 

Revision of the standards and policies resulted from a year of evaluation. The reviewers included representatives from various media and journalistic organizations, including the Society of Professional Journalists, the Radio-Television News Directors Association, the Poynter Institute of Media Studies, The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer and Wisconsin Public Broadcasting.

The policies were made available to the public Tuesday and are currently posted at www.pbs.org/aboutpbs/aboutpbs_standards.html). 

On the issue of political pressure, the new guildelines reinforce that: "PBS and its member stations are responsible for shielding the creative and editorial processes from political pressure or improper influence from funders or other sources. PBS also must make every effort to ensure that the content it distributes satisfies those editorial standards designed to assure integrity."