A Strong Public Broadcasting System More Essential Than Ever in the Digital Age
PBS President Pat Mitchell makes case for system's continued independence and vibrancy in National Press Club speech
Washington, DC Public broadcasting in America will remain immune to political pressure and will play an even more vital role the digital age, said PBS President Pat Mitchell in a speech today at the National Press Club. (View full text of Ms Mitchell's speech)
Mitchell asserted that PBS "is so much more than television; it's not just another channel on the remote. We are a national media service that uses television, video, the internet and grassroots outreach to address the nation's needs."
Mitchell reaffirmed PBS's commitment to presenting an unfiltered forum for diverse voices. "PBS is not the property of any single political party or activist group or foundation or funder with an agenda of any kind," she said. "Our editorial standards ensure it, and public opinion polls verify it. PBS does not belong to a red or blue or purple constituency, and it does not shrink in the face of political threats. PBS has built and maintained a steadfast resolve to never give in to pressures to reflect a political agenda. That resolve is as rock solid today as it has ever been."
Mitchell views PBS's non-commercial model as more essential than ever in "a media environment where everyone seems to be selling something and everything is for sale." She added that in a media landscape dominated by a small number of media conglomerates that make decisions based on need to earn higher profits, PBS's nationally and locally delivered media service is far more valued than ever.
While addressing the challenge of finding new resources to fund PBS's current and future programming and outreach initiatives, Mitchell provided some perspective on government funding for public broadcasting. In the U.K., every British citizen pays an annual $200 tax on their televisions to support the BBC, and in Japan, each household pays $240. Meanwhile, Americans pay only $1 per person, per year; and 82 percent of Americans who were asked rank PBS as the best value for their tax dollars, second only to national defense, and most agreed that PBS was deserving of additional funding.
She asked "are we, as a democracy that is dependent upon having informed and engaged communities, willing to commit additional resources to ensure a vibrant, viable and independent public service media enterprise now and in the future?"
Mitchell gave a preview of two initiatives that will ensure that PBS is able to continue serving the public in the future. First, the PBS Foundation has been formed to solicit the kinds of major gifts from individuals and foundations that will make it possible to launch new initiatives and to invest in programming. The Foundation's first grant of $10 million was recently made by the Ford Foundation, which provided a boost of capital to operate the Foundation into the future.
Second, PBS has undertaken the "Digital Future Initiative," a panel of experts from outside and inside public broadcasting that is charged with presenting innovative ways to take PBS into the future in ways that provide tangible benefits in the communities it serves. Led by former Netscape Chairman Jim Barksdale and former FCC Chairman Reed Hundt, the DFI's first report will be completed in the near future and is expected to provide a blueprint for PBS to expand its unique position in educational programming and develop new ways to use this content to reach more people.
Mitchell concluded by calling PBS "that one place where education comes before titillation, where partisanship is checked at the newsroom door and, above all, is a media option that measures success by how many minds we open, how many lives we change, how many ways we strengthen communities, and how well we serve this democracy."