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Public TV Stations Seek CPB Changes

The Association of Public Television Stations (APTS) is pushing for a legislative package that would change the composition of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to “de-politicize” the board that has been a lightning rod of partisan bickering this year.

Currently, the president appoints nine members, no more than five from his own party. Under the APTS plan, the president would choose eight members, four from each political party. Of those four, two would be representatives of local public TV stations, and two from local public radio stations. The chair and vice chair could not be from the same political party.

That would seemingly guarantee frequent tie votes, but the board would also consist of the heads of the Library of Congress, the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Science Foundation.

“We don’t want to micromanage the CPB,” said John Lawson, APTS president and CEO, whose organization represents 153 public stations. “But we want to shield it from the kind of bad publicity it’s had for the last 10 months.” He said he had discussed the idea at “highest levels” of PBS but the pubcaster had no comment.

The CPB’s former chairman Ken Tomlinson, earlier this year, began complaining that PBS was too liberal. He hired consultants to study the liberal bias of Now With Bill Moyers, an expenditure that is being investigated. The CPB was to hear results of the investigation from CPB Inspector General Kenneth Konz on Tuesday, though the public may not hear about it until later.

When Tomlinson’s term was up, he named Cheryl Halpern, a major GOP donor, as chairman, and tapped Gay Hart Gaines, also a prominent Republican, as vice chair. In addition, amid howls of protest, he earlier named Patricia Harrison, former Republican National Committee co-chair, as CPB’s president.

APTS’ Lawson said the CPB heavy-handedness toward programming matters endangered fund raising. “The danger for us is not just the potential of interference but the perception by viewers that we are succumbing to interference,” he said. We are not hapless victims. We know how to push back.”

He doubts the APTS proposal could be introduced as a bill in this session but said it was “intentionally crafted so that it could get bi-partisan support” and hinted that he has some Congressional backing. “There are lots of members who want to quote ‘do something’ unquote.”