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Friday, November 4, 2005

A One-Person CPB
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More shenanigans at CPB. Kenneth Tomlinson, the former CPB chairman who took on the quixotic quest of ridding public broadcasting of its liberal bias, has resigned from the board after a report by CPB's inspector general raised questions about his conduct.

I spent several interesting years living in this world as Managing Editor of Public Broadcasting Report, the only independent publication in the world dedicated to the U.S. public broadcasting industry (another publication, Current, is owned by several major public broadcasters). It was a lot of fun for a budding investigative reporter. I had the whole beat to myself, and boy did these kooky public broadcasters give me things to write about (those stories earned me my first three journalism awards).

The bottom line is this -- most stations, well-meaning if a bit management-challenged. PBS? Overly ambitious, wants to use public money to be a CBS or Discovery Channel. NPR? Pretty professional, but fears transparency in its operations. America's Public Television Stations? They're lobbyists, enough said. CPB? I honestly have nothing good to say about CPB, nothing at all.

For years I've advocated a simple solution to CPB, to charges of financial mismanagement, to charges of liberal bias, to charges of arm-twisting stations. CPB's role, as the article I linked to notes, is to funnel money to stations, PBS and NPR. Let those latter two get funding directly from the stations they presumably are owned by. And reduce CPB's payroll to one part-time employee, a retired bookkeeper whose sole job is to take CPB's annual federal payment and write checks to all the public TV and radio stations. To show you how easy this would be, CPB is forward-funded two years ahead, meaning in 2005 they know what the U.S. government will be paying them in 2007, giving them two years to figure out how to evenly divide the spoils.

Sure, there would be some scrambling to determine how much each station got. How would WETA-TV, a stand-alone community station, get money relative to Maryland Public Television, a statewide government network? How about WETA-FM vs. WAMU-FM, when the latter is licensed to a university? You know what? You figure it out and be done with it. These are not huge dollars we're talking about. CPB money makes up far less than 10% of the average station's revenues.

So all those spacious offices and that gorgeous wood-lined board room in that marble-lined office building that CPB currently occupies could go to some law firm, and our semi-retired bookkeeper could work from home. Just make sure she's got enough stamps to mail all the checks.

posted by Patrick Ross @ 3:56 PM | Mass Media

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