The Free Press action follows a May 2 report in the New York Times, which reveals CPB head Kenneth Tomlinson's covert efforts to combat what he considers "liberal bias" at PBS. Tomlinson and other Republican operatives claim that they are trying to make our Public Broadcasting System more "fair and balanced," despite an overwhelming majority of Americans who already believe PBS to be trustworthy and unbiased.
Tomlinson's CPB was put in place by Congress to shield PBS from political pressure. But since taking the reins he has secretly hired a White House staffer to help draft "guiding principles" for the future of CPB. He brought in a consultant to monitor the "anti-Bush" and "anti-Tom Delay" content on Bill Moyers' NOW program, and then set up and funded right-wing commentator Paul Gigot's new PBS program. Now Tomlinson is working behind the scenes to stack CPB's board and executive offices with Republican Party cronies.
Tomlinson and Acting CPB President Ken Ferree insists that they are trying to restore "objectivity and balance" to a PBS beseiged by liberals. Despite their conservative bellyaching, two recent surveys show that the majority of the Americans doesn't see any real bias in public broadcasting.
In an apparent bid to confirm their own prejudices, CPB hired the Republican pollsters at Tarrance Group to survey public opinion about PBS bias. In resulting 2003 poll, however, PBS news and information consumers were highly supportive of such programs as the "Newshour," "Frontline," "Morning Edition," and "All Things Considered."
More than half surveyed found PBS's news programming to be more trustworthy than ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, and CNN news shows. 80 percent found PBS programming to be "fair and balanced."
Rather than respect public opinion, Tomlinson and right-wing crew decided to discard the poll and charge ahead with plans to fix what Americans say isn't broken. This top-down partisan meddling goes against the very nature of PBS and the local stations that Americans trust. It's time to let the future of PBS be decided by the people, not by the secret dealings of White House operatives.
Tomlinson's actions remind that the "Fox Effect" is alive in American media. Even noncommercial institutions aren't imune from infection from the likes of Murdoch, Ailes and their advocates in the administration.
Free Press asked its 170,000 members to write Congress, CPB and PBS calling for Tomlinson to step down and supporting a series of town hall meetings to discuss the future of public broadcasting.
Last week, Free Press, Consumers Union, Media Access Project, Common Cause and the Consumer Federation of America released a report, "A New Standard: Building a Public Broadcasting System that Deserves Public Support," calling for "a public ascertainment process" before lawmakers and bureaucrats attempt to establish politically motivated standards for PBS and other public broadcasters.
Tomlinson's actions highlight the urgent need for town hall meetings in local communities across the country. If public broadcasting is to be reformed in a positive direction, it must be driven from the bottom-up.