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Bad news for PBS viewers: Now and the Bill Moyers Journal will be taken off the air in April 2010. Both programs stood out as all-too-rare examples of the hard-hitting, independent programming that should thrive on public television--which is why PBS should replace these programs with similarly thoughtful shows that continue this tradition.
In late November Bill Moyers, who was also the original host of Now when it launched in 2002, announced that he would be stepping down from his Journal program, which first aired in 1972 and has been running in its current incarnation since 2007. The decision to cancel Now appears to rest with PBS, which has issued only a limited explanation, stating that the cancellation is part of the "review and reinvention of the news and public affairs genre on PBS," and is intended to help "revitalize public media in the context of today's rapidly changing communications environment."
As PBS ombud Michael Getler wrote (12/4/09): "I find the one and only PBS public statement thus far about the ending of these programs to be puzzling; unresponsive to dedicated viewers and to the high-profile role for public affairs junkies that these broadcasts have played for years on public television. There is no real explanation of why Now, in particular, is ending or what, if anything, will replace both programs."
Getler added: "Indeed, one can easily understand how the combination of these two particular programs being taken off the air simultaneously could be seen, certainly by many dedicated viewers, as signaling a move away from hard-hitting, controversial programs."
The mission of PBS, as set forth by the Carnegie Commission of 1967, is to "provide a voice for groups in the community that may otherwise be unheard," to serve as "a forum for controversy and debate," and broadcast programs that "help us see America whole, in all its diversity." FAIR has documented over the years how PBS has failed to live up to that promise (Extra! Update, 6/05; Extra!, 3-4/95). Two shows that did--and which aired, in many places, together on Friday evenings--will soon be gone. What replaces those programs will be a test of its commitment to the very foundations of public broadcasting itself.
The Journal, for example, offered in April 2007 a powerful review of mainstream media malfeasance in the run-up to the Iraq War. The show has featured probing discussions and reports on media consolidation, torture, race, the economy and much more. Now has amassed a similar record, with in-depth reports on the recession, health issues and Wall Street.
PBS says it will announce its plans for replacement programs in January. But there's no reason why the public should wait. Please join FAIR in sending a message to PBS: In an era of cable news chatter, public television stood out for carrying two programs committed to uncompromising, unflinching journalism. If PBS is not going to continue to carry these shows, then it should develop new programming that will be just as tough and independent.
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