Jan 1 2011


PBS, Diversity & Public Media

Your November issue’s analysis of PBS news and public affairs programs illuminated a pervasive lack of diversity and gender equity in guest appearances on those shows. While the conclusions to which your exposé point are valid concerns and well substantiated with empirical data, there is one ironic omission. Tavis Smiley on PBS is the only five-night-per-week news and public affairs program on PBS hosted by an African-American.

Diversity and inclusion are central tenets that the show has established in its successful seven years of broadcast, as evidenced by the most diverse guestlist of any public broadcast program on the air. Tavis Smiley is a unique hybrid of news, issues and entertainment, featuring interviews with politicians, entertainers, athletes, authors and other newsmakers, and is broadly inclusive of people of color, women, non-corporate and non-elected official voices. This regular platform of inclusion covers 97 percent of U.S. households through broadcast on 220 out of 300 PBS markets.

Your reporting underscores the urgent need for inclusiveness in public programming, to hear voices “that would otherwise go unheard,” and to help viewers “see America in all its diversity.” In that spirit, I urge you to include Tavis Smiley on PBS in your future reporting and analysis.

Neal Kendall

Executive Producer

Tavis Smiley on PBS

Los Angeles, Calif.

The cover on the November issue about “Taking the Public Out of Public TV,” with the “P” knocked out of “PBS,” leaves us appropriately with “BS.” Right on.

But despite the allusion to bovines and their input to composting, “BS” is more about the “B” in Private Business, in the Uber Alles sense.

Public broadcasting is a necessity as the vital nervous system of society. It tells us what hurts and why, and how to avoid and cure the problems, and what alternatives there are. We, the people, are in big trouble if private corporate entities control this “public” system, and if our vital information is denied so that we cannot adequately know about and then defend ourselves against harms and assaults from the private sector, which has motives and duties to take as much from us as possible, to evade responsibilities for harms caused and to deliver as little as possible in return for whatever we pay them for products or services. Our adversaries control our essential social nervous system.

If a PBS affiliate does mail solicitations on the grounds that it is a public entity, that seems to be prosecutable mail fraud. How not? No station can be partly public, any more than a woman can be partly pregnant. One drop of private corporate “oil,” so to speak, in the pure water of public communications, makes that “water” undrinkable, and even deadly.

The “nice” things on NPR—Click and Clack, Garrison Keillor, WireTap etc., must be seen as bait to hook the “elite.” The Terry Gross show, another “nice” one, is overwhelmingly a criticism-free love-fest promoting all sorts of mainstream corporate entertainment industries…publishing, theater, movies, TV, pop music and so forth.

The intensity of private interests’ work to control and eliminate truly public and open media tells us that those private interests know that they cannot counter the open truth. They know they are illegitimate, even criminal, and will do all possible to evade exposure of that.

John Jonik

Philadelphia, Penn.

Olbermann & GE

I am deeply disappointed that newspapers and broadcast journalists aren’t running editorials about General Electric censoring Keith Olbermann as an MSNBC commentator, allegedly because he exercised his right to donate $2,400 to three political candidates.

I have been a journalist for 50 years, so I am not using the word censorship lightly. I’m not surprised. I spent my tour of duty in the Army in 1958-60 at Fort McClellan, in Anniston, Alabama, as the “news at the fort” reporter for the local newspaper and radio station. I asked the local head of the Ku Klux Klan why they were against a union organizing a local General Electric factory. He said a friend at GE told him the union would force them to bring Jews and n-ggers from New York to take their jobs. Fifty years have gone by and nothing at GE has changed.

Bob Fisher

Encinitas, Calif.