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Washington Watch

Democrats Call for Investigation of CPB

Two senior Democratic congressmen called for an investigation to determine whether the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) is violating federal law by interfering with TV stations and programming decisions in public broadcasting.

Reps. David Obey (D-Wis.) and John D. Dingell (D-Mich.)—respectively, ranking member of the House Appropriations and Commerce Committees—requested that CPB Inspector General Kenneth A. Konz investigate whether the corporation is violating the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967. The law prohibits interference by federal officials over the content and distribution of public programming and forbids use of “political or other tests” in CPB hiring.

Their request follows reports that Bush administration- appointed CPB Chairman Kenneth Tomlinson ordered a review of the Now With Bill Moyers show to determine whether it contained political bias. Moyers’ programming has been repeatedly criticized by Republicans as left-leaning.

Tomlinson says the inspector general’s review will “clear up with finality distortions in press reports and elsewhere about our work to bring more diversity to public broadcasting. There would be no debate on this issue if more programs on public television reflected the high journalistic standards of the NewsHour With Jim Lehrer.”

The Democrats also seek an investigation of the hiring of two ombudsmen to review public programming and last month’s departure of CPB President Kathleen Cox.

CPB spokesman Eben Peck says the uproar is an overreaction to Tomlinson’s drive to ensure that public broadcasting lives up to its statutory obligation to offer balanced and objective programming. “That has set off alarm bells for some people.”

Anti-Consolidation Activists Fire Up Grassroots Machine

A coalition of media activist groups unveiled a “Bill of Media Rights” they want included in any major media or telecommunications overhaul legislation.

The provisions are aimed at reversing the effects of increased corporate consolidation of the media.

The coalition represents 116 groups, including Common Cause, the United Church of Christ and the AFL-CIO. Building upon the loose coalition of activists that opposed the FCC’s broadcast-ownership deregulation in 2003, they plan to tap the 20 million citizens whose e-mail addresses they’ve collected in their grassroots contact lists.

“This coalition coming together today is the galvanizing starting point to bringing back citizen-led democracy to the halls of Congress,” said Gene Kimmelman, policy director for Consumers Union.

The groups are calling on Congress to enact 15 provisions they believe will lead to lower prices for pay TV and greater diversity of viewpoints expressed in the media. Among them: requirements for locally produced programming; restrictions on crossownership of broadcast stations, cable systems and newspapers in the same market; and requirements for political and civic programming.

“We will engage the public to promote media policies for the 21st century that truly provide diversity of viewpoints and ownership,” says Chellie Pingree, president of Common Cause. Without the information citizens need for self-governing, “our country is at risk, and our democracy is at risk.”

Justice Dept. Merger Chief To Step Down

R. Hewitt Pate, who led the Justice Department’s review of News Corp.’s acquisition of DirecTV, will leave the agency next month.

He had been expected to tackle a wave of media mergers following the FCC’s deregulation of broadcast-ownership rules in 2003. But the sea of deals never materialized because legal challenges ultimately led federal judges to nullify the changes and require the FCC to try a rewrite.

Pate’s successor as assistant attorney general for antitrust will inherit review of a Comcast/Time Warner plan to divvy the assets of Adelphia Communications. Pate will also leave his successor to review two huge telephone-company mergers: Verizon’s offer to buy MCI, and SBC Communications’ planned acquisition of AT&T.