Feb
20
2009

WNET Responds on Worldfocus' Conflict of Interest

Public broadcaster WNET has responded to FAIR's Action Alert (2/10/09), "Worldfocus, Brought to You by Economic Fearmongers." WNET CEO and director Neal Shapiro wrote (2/12/09) in an email to FAIR activists, "While the Peter G. Peterson Foundation has a well-known interest in the issues of Social Security and health care, FAIR's suggestion that 'Worldfocus' will be producing reports promoting the foundation's point of view is false." Shapiro added, "The foundation's interest in 'Worldfocus' stems from the fact that the newscast has been looking at these critical issues in the context of its in-depth world coverage."

Shapiro's response seems to miss the point of media activists' concerns about the funding. As has been well documented (Nation, 2/11/09, London Guardian, 2/16/09), Peterson and his foundation have much more than an "interest" in Social Security; they are currently engaged in a major public relations campaign to cut Social Security benefits in the name of fiscal "responsibility." In the context of this campaign, for Shapiro to separate the foundation's overarching interest in defunding Social Security from the foundation's interest in Worldfocus' programming is naive.

As FAIR's alert pointed out, it was the very real concern that commercial sponsorship influences programming that led to the creation of public broadcasting in the first place. FAIR did not claim, as Shapiro seems to argue, that WNET would not have total control over the show's content. But sponsors do not have to "dictate" content in order for their money to impact programming decisions. If Shapiro really believes the source of funding has no impact on content, what, in his view, is the point of a public broadcasting station like WNET?

(NOTE: The original version of FAIR's Action Alert had characterized Worldfocus as a PBS show; an updated February 12 version of the alert clarifies that it is actually produced by WNET and broadcast on a number of PBS affiliates.)

Shapiro's full message follows.

***

Thank you for your recent message about "Worldfocus." We are aware of the "Action Alert" posted by FAIR and we understand your concern.

I must point out, however, that FAIR has mischaracterized the situation by drawing incorrect conclusions from a "New York Times" story (2/3/09) and by making assertions that simply are not true.

Like all funds provided to public television, the Peter G. Peterson Foundation's grant to "Worldfocus" was made with no editorial strings attached. In the "New York Times" article, the foundation's President and CEO, David Walker, states for the record that "Worldfocus" will have "total control over the content." Without any legitimate reason or evidence to the contrary, FAIR chooses to disregard that statement.

Let me assure you that Mr. Walker's statement is the absolute truth and FAIR is wrong to claim otherwise. WNET.ORG and its production units maintain full editorial control over all our programs, regardless of where we received the funding. No foundation or other funding entity is allowed to dictate or influence the content of any program we create.

While the Peter G. Peterson Foundation has a well-known interest in the issues of Social Security and health care, FAIR's suggestion that "Worldfocus" will be producing reports promoting the foundation's point of view is false. Indeed, the reality is just the opposite. The foundation's interest in "Worldfocus" stems from the fact that the newscast has been looking at these critical issues in the context of its in-depth world coverage. As the "New York Times" story reported - in a passage mysteriously omitted by FAIR - "Even before the grant 'Worldfocus' had reported on those topics; a series on universal health care in Brazil, Singapore and Canada was shown last week."

FAIR often does admirable work in keeping a critical eye on the media.

But this time, FAIR has missed the mark.

Thank you again for taking the time to bring your concerns to our attention.

Sincerely,

Neal Shapiro, President and CEO

WNET.ORG