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PBS Just as Corporate, White, Male and Republican as Commercial TV

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There's not much public about public television these days.

According to a multi-part report in the latest issue of Extra! magazine, published by media watchdog group FAIR (Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting), PBS is not the indie alternative to corporate-owned television it once was. In fact, in many ways, PBS now is corporate-owned television. At the same time, many PBS shows' guest lists are woefully non-diverse.

It's not exactly news that PBS is suckling at the corporate teat ( we wrote about that a whole decade ago). But the FAIR exposé sheds light on some new and disturbing findings:

  • NewsHour, the network's signature show, is mostly privately owned, despite being known as "public TV's nightly newscast"; since 1994, the for-profit conglomerate Liberty Media has held a controlling stake in the show. Likewise, the Nightly Business Report was sold to a private company earlier this year, and details of the sale by public station WPBT are still largely unknown to the, um, public.
  • NewsHour viewers were five times as likely to see corporate representatives than guests from "public interest groups who might counterweigh such moneyed interests – labor, consumer and environmental organizations." Although Democrats outnumbered Republicans as guests on the show by nearly 2-to-1, Republicans were featured more prominently than Democrats (3-to-2) in the longer-format, live segments. An earlier study showed that Republicans were featured more than Democrats overall when the GOP controlled the White House and Congress.
  • NewsHour's guest list was 82% white and 80% male, with women and people of color appearing far more often in "person on the street" interviews than in any positions of authority. Appearances by women of color actually declined by a third since 2006.
  • The guest list for Need to Know, the news magazine that replaced Now and Bill Moyers Journal (RIP), didn't fare any better in the pale male department. During the first three months of the show, the guest list was 78% white, 70% male and featured a corporate-representative-to-activist ratio of 20 to 12. Black people were "overwhelmingly" tied to stories on drugs and crime.

As the report points out, PBS has strayed quite far from the original tenets of public television: to give voice to those "who would otherwise go unheard" and help viewers "see America whole, in all its diversity."

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