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TCA: PBS ‘Optimistic’ About Biden Administration

PBS President and CEO Paula Kerger during PBS' 2019 TCA summer press tour executive session on July 29, 2019
PBS president and CEO Paula Kerger (Image credit: Rahoul Ghose/PBS)

PBS is “cautiously optimistic” that the Biden Administration will invest healthily in public broadcasting, said Paula Kerger, president and CEO, at PBS’s TCA press tour event. Kerger said the president’s budget as relates to public broadcasting is not yet available, but mentioned PBS having a great relationship with President Biden over the years. 

“I would say I’m optimistic about our prospects going forward this year,” Kerger added. 

President Trump tried to zero out funding for public media, but Congress, in a bipartisan pushback, ultimately approved increased funding.

Kerger stressed PBS’s “commitment to editorial integrity” in these difficult times, and cited the network as a forum for “shining a bright light on facts” and “creating a space for civil discourse.”

She mentioned The Black Church: This is Our Story, This is Our Song, Tulsa: The Fire and the Forgotten and Medical Racism, among other topical projects. The Black Church starts Feb. 16. Debuting May 31, Tulsa looks at The Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921 that saw a mob of white residents set fire to the so-called Black Wall Street in that city. 

Documentary Medical Racism will premiere in late 2022. A collaboration between NOVA and filmmaker Stanley Nelson, Medical Racism “will explore racism’s devastating impacts on Black Americans’ health and solutions for an equitable future,” said PBS. “Among the many harmful impacts of racism in America, one that’s captured great attention over the past year is the disproportionate impact of coronavirus on Black Americans.”

The WNET Group, parent of New York PBS station Thirteen, will debut a new reporting initiative, Exploring Hate: Anti-Semitism, Racism and Extremism. The initiative explores “the roots and rise of hate in America and across the globe,” according to WNET. 

New Frontline documentaries that are part of Exploring Hate begin on PBS in the spring. Kerger called Frontline “the most important series we have on our air.”

She added of its mission, “If you’re asking hard questions during this very complicated time in our history, a lot will come up.”

Kerger referred to PBS as “America’s home for documentaries,” a place for “stories that open hearts and expand minds.”

Ken Burns documentary Hemingway debuts April 5. 

Asked about an essay from director Grace Lee that posited that PBS’s close relationship with Ken Burns comes at the expense of other, more diverse filmmakers, Kerger said she is “very privileged to have the opportunity to work with Ken Burns, whose legacy is extraordinary.”

She added, “We are committed to a rich pipeline with lots of voices and we will continue to look for ways that we can bring even more people forward.”