Tuesday, February 15, 2011

PBS Pledge-Week Ads Violate Federal Law

Last night, Washington's WETA, our local PBS station, was running ads that urged viewers to call their congressmen to stop proposed Republican budget cuts for public broadcasting. The national campaign is coming from an organization called 170MillionAmericans.Org. Here's the Maryland Public Television version:

IMHO, these PBS call to action ads violate both FCC regulations on non-commercial broadcasting that prohibit "calls to action" as well as CPB legal requirements for overseeing "objectivity and balance" in coverage of controversial issues.

Here's the FCC rule:
B. Announcements containing a call to action are not permissible. Examples of such announcements are:
-- "Stop by our showroom to see a model";
-- "Try product X next time you buy oil."

SOURCE: In the Matter of Commission Policy Concerning the Noncommercial Nature of Educational Broadcasting, 1992 Reprint excerpted from Public Notice, April 11, 1986 (FCC 86-161),
which was published at 51 Federal Register 21800, June 16, 1986
7 FCC Record 827 (http://www.fcc.gov/mb/audio/nature.html)
Here's the CPB rule:
From its advent more than four decades ago, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting has had a legal mandate to ensure "strict adherence to objectivity and balance in all programs or series of programs of a controversial nature." This principle is part of the bedrock of public broadcasting in America, a country built upon a foundation of lively and open political and social discourse.

CPB carries out its mandate by encouraging public comment on programming to individual stations and to CPB's own ombudsman. By promoting diversity in programming, CPB also ensures that a wide range of perspectives is available to viewers and listeners. Annual Open to the Public reports, as required by Congress, offer extensive detail on this important goal.

SOURCE: CPB's Commitment to Objectivity and Balance (http://www.cpb.org/aboutcpb/goals/objectivity/)

So far as I can tell, neither the FCC nor CPB has taken any action whatsoever to enforce these legal requirements. That the Republican Congress permits public broadcasting to violate both with impunity, in the middle of a funding debate, shows their lack of seriousness.

If CPB isn't enforcing the "objectivity and balance" law in this crystal-clear case, and the FCC turns a blind eye, what other laws are being broken by public broadcasters?

At the very least, Congressional committees with oversight responsibility for public broadcasting should hold hearings into the matter of how and why FCC and CPB have failed to prevent the hijacking of PBS and NPR for blatant political advertising on one side of this controversial issue.

UPDATE 2/16/2011

I just filed a complaint with the FTC, after viewing WETA's 30-second spot calling upon viewers to tell their members of Congress what they think--that the Republicans are trying to kill Big Bird, the only reasonable conclusion, from the false and misleading claims made in the ad. Here's what I received in response from the automated website:
Thank you for contacting the FTC. Your complaint has been entered into Consumer Sentinel, a secure online database available to thousands of civil and criminal law enforcement agencies worldwide. Your reference number is:29264359

Here are links to the publications you may find useful:

No links available for selection

If you want to update your information or have any questions, please call our Consumer Response Center, 1-877-FTC-HELP. Keep your reference number handy.
I'm not holding my breath, since I don't see any evidence that anyone in a position of responsibility holds PBS to any standards of decency, whatsoever...I don't know that Congressman Lamborn even obtained a GAO audit of NPR's finances...

BTW, the type of lobbying by cartoon characters shown in the clip below strikes me as precisely the type of manipulative advertising aimed at children ("host-selling") that PBS was supposedly set up to counteract...