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Tomlinson Defends Bias Checks

Ken Tomlinson told a Senate Appropriations subcommittee Monday that the reason he had an outside consultant review other shows--like the Diane Rehm Show--in addition to NOWWith Bill Moyers was to show that, unlike NOW, they "reflected diverse political opinions."

Saying he did not "initiate the controversy over balance" in public broadcasting, and that the controversy "has not been good for the health of public broadcasting," CPB President Ken Tomlinson outlined for a Senate appropriations committee what he felt he had done to achieve the diversity, objectivity and balance" required of CPB by Congress.

Some Democrats, particularly Dick Durbin of Illinois, took aim at Tomlinson, while some Republicans defended his charges of bias. But both Republicans and Democrats sounded like they would restore most if not all of the missing noncom funding, with one powerful Republican critic of the service saying a warning shot had been fired and it was time to calm down and put the money back.

Most of the political hot-button issues--the outside consultant, a CPB lobbying effort against changing the composition of the board, Postcards from Buster were brought up and hashed out with Tomlinson.
But both Republicans and Democrats sounded like they would restore most if not all of the missing noncom funding, with one powerful Republican critic of the service saying a warning shot had been fired and it was time to calm down and put the money back.
In testimony prepared for the subcommittee hearing Monday, Tomlinson said he went to the leadership of PBS--he does not name anyone, though Pat Mitchell is president and was at the hearing--in late 2003 and told them NOW With Bill Moyers was "a symbol of our ignoring our mandate to require balance." He says he did not ask that the show be pulled, but that public broadcasting would do well, and the law required it for the sake of balance, to "reflect conservative points of view as it did so eloquently liberal points of view."

He also said he would be willing to debate Moyers on air, though he said that both he and Moyers felt the controversy wasn't good for public broadcasting.

When PBS leadership asserted the show was balanced, Tomlinson said he asked a consultant to review six months of the show, then other programs like Rehm's.

That consultant drew fire when Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) two weeks ago produced some of his work product, including labeling NOW segments "anti-Bush" or "anti-Tom Delay" (House Majority Leader).

Tomlinson said he did not keep the consultant a secret, but did not pass it by the CPB board either, saying that he had "never known CPB board members to be involved in approving contracts with consultants."

Mitchell in her opening statement defended PBS programming as "free of bias."

The hearing was scheduled in advance of a markup on an appropriations bill that would cut funding for noncommercial TV and radio. Tomlinson, Mitchell, and new CPB President/CEO Patricia Harrison (in her sixth day on the job) argued for the restoration for that funding, with Tomlinson arguing that PBS needed to do fewer cartoon shows and more educational shows.
John Lawson, head of the Association for Public Television Stations, argued particularly for the restoration of funds for the conversion of DTV, and the satellite interconnection system that allows local stations to share programming.
He also argued for the restoration of funds for the Ready to Learn kids TV initiative, which was zeroed out in the House.

David Boaz of the Cato Institute argued that everybody is suffering budget cuts, and that noncommercial broadcasting can survive without any federal tax dollars, saying there shouldn't be goverment run radio or TV.

Mitchell took issue with the premise, saying the 15% of the PBS budget that comes from the government is hugely important as seed money for other funds.
Lawson said he didn't think public broadcasting represented a goverment-run TV or radio service. He said it was all about local station control. He also said that the federal seed money is the foundation of those stations.
Boaz said he thought it was impossible to avoid some kind of bias in noncommercial broadcasting with a government-funded system.

Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) said he thought the PBS funding cuts should be restored, but also said that there are "unfortunate trends" to take on political issues that demonstrates a bias. "I deplore the fact that some people want to exercise their bias in the system," he said.

Stevens said that some of the stations in Alaska could not survive without the federal money. "Members of the Congress ought to calm down. this is an essential service and needs our support."
"Our job is to put the money back. There has been a wake-up call," on the bias issue, Stevens said.
Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) also said he supports full funding.
Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, said Tomlinson was way off-base with NOW. "In his prepared testimony today, once again Mr. Tomlinson fails to comprehend serious electronic journalism. NOWWith Bill Moyers did contain personal commentary. But the majority of the programming featured some of the finest investigative journalism on U.S. TV in decades. It's not 'political advocacy broadcasting,' as he describes it. It's called serious news."

Common Cause President Chellie Pingree thought Tomlinson was too worried about NOW: "One would expect that the chairman of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, testifying before a Senate subcommittee considering the CPB’s 2006 budget, would focus on the reasons for supporting its full budget allocation, rather than assailing the “bias” of a journalist who no longer moderates the news program with which Chairman Kenneth Tomlinson seems obsessed. "

Saying Tomlinson had been subject to a "withering rebuke from a bipartisan inquiry," Free Press renewed its calls for Tomlinson's resignation.