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PBS to overhaul editorial practices

Facing claims of bias, broadcaster to hire ombudsman
/ Source: The Associated Press

The Public Broadcasting Service is hiring an ombudsman and revising editorial practices in the face of criticism that its programming has given short shrift to conservative views.

Changes approved by the PBS board now go to the service’s funding organization, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, for its consideration, and millions of dollars in revenue for PBS could be at stake in the corporation’s review.

PBS, which rejects accusations of liberal bias, said it has been reviewing its procedures since before Republicans in Congress moved to cut its financing. The Republican chairman of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Kenneth Y. Tomlinson, has specifically accused the show hosted by Bill Moyers of featuring guests hostile to conservative views.

Revisions adopted by the PBS board include a requirement that commentary and opinion be labeled as such, and that program producers offer more information on how they gathered material and made their editorial decisions.

PBS also said it would hire an ombudsman to review controversial programs.

About 15 percent of PBS’ budget is from the federal government, with appropriations approved by Congress and provided through the CPB.

About $55 million in funds for a variety of programs over two years is at stake in the CPB’s review of the new standards.

Jacoba Atlas, senior vice president of programming at PBS, described the new standards as “some refreshing, not a total overhauling in any way.”

“The American public believes PBS is trusted, valued and fair ad accurate,” she said, citing various polls. “We feel our producers have been doing an excellent job, and the 1987 editorial standards to which all our producers adhered, did stand the test of time.”

CPB has begun reviewing the 70-page document that PBS submitted, according to spokesman Eben Peck. The corporation has until Oct. 1 to share any concerns with PBS over the standards.

The updated standards and policies are the result of more than a year of evaluation by PBS, it said in a statement Wednesday.

PBS created a committee of experts over a year ago to review PBS content policies.

The updated policies are not a significant departure from those PBS has used since 1987, PBS said. The committee noted policies need only “minimal changes and should be altered only as necessary to reflect evolving technology and journalistic norms,” PBS said.

PBS is a private, nonprofit media enterprise that serves the nation’s 348 public noncommercial television stations, reaching nearly 90 million people each week.