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From: "misc.activism.progressive co-moderator" <[log in to unmask]>
Tue, 16 Mar 1993 21:08:09 EST
To: Multiple recipients of list ACTIV-L <[log in to unmask]>
Subject: PBS BIAS II: Anti-Working People, Pro-Business
 
    "Could public TV's reliance on corporate contributions fuel its
    reluctance to carry labor programming? About a third of its
    funding comes from major U.S. corporations [..]"
 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
    PBS primetime coverage that "addressed the lives and concerns of
    workers as workers" totaled 27 hours in 1988 and 1989, less than
    0.5 percent of its primetime programming.
 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
    By contrast, most PBS stations air several regular business
    programs, including Adam Smith's Money World and the Nightly
    Business Report. Wall $treet Week, hosted by the virulently anti-
    labor Louis Rukeyser and focused on the stock market, caters to a
    tiny audience: An estimated 2 percent of the U.S. population makes
    five or more trades on the stock market per year.
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                    A R T I C L E   B E G I N S :
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                           We Do the Work:
 
            The Public Gets a Toehold in Public Television
            ==============================================
 
Once a month, We Do the Work, a show focusing on the lives, issues,
culture and history of working people, airs on selected public
television stations. Now in its second season, the independently
produced program can be seen in some of the nation's biggest media
markets, including New York, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. As
one of the show's brochures explains: "We Do The Work seeks to
restore balance and depth to the public's understanding of the
political, economic and social issues all Americans face by giving
voice to the majority--working people." We Do the Work estimates
its national audience at more than 1 million per show; in San
Francisco, according to producer Patrice O'Neill, its ratings are
comparable to MacNeil/Lehrer's.
 
We Do the Work is a television anomaly. According to a City
University of New York (CUNY) study (reported in EXTRA!, Summer
'90), PBS primetime coverage that "addressed the lives and concerns
of workers as workers" totaled 27 hours in 1988 and 1989, less than
0.5 percent of its primetime programming. Of the 27 hours on
working people, 19 were about British workers--leaving 20 minutes
a month about U.S. workers.
 
Despite the absence of public-TV programming about U.S. workers,
PBS itself does not distribute We Do the Work as part of its
regular schedule. Instead, the show is distributed through the
Central Education Network, a small independent distributor. As a
result, it currently airs on only 30 of PBS's 300 affiliates, and
is often broadcast during odd hours, when most working people are
at work or asleep.
 
By contrast, most PBS stations air several regular business
programs, including Adam Smith's Money World and the Nightly
Business Report. Wall $treet Week, hosted by the virulently anti-
labor Louis Rukeyser and focused on the stock market, caters to a
tiny audience: An estimated 2 percent of the U.S. population makes
five or more trades on the stock market per year. Americans who
work, on the other hand, constitute a majority of the population-
-even in a recession. Instead of jumping at programs aimed at this
huge audience, however, PBS has historically shunned worker- or
labor-oriented shows.
 
PBS stations have often pointed to union funding as a reason for
rejecting labor-related programs, citing a policy against programs
where the underwriter has an interest in the subject. This policy,
however, seems only to apply to labor. Nightly Business Report is
funded by Marine Midland Bank, the Franklin Group of Funds and AG
Edwards (among others), all of which have a clear interest in the
markets and policies the show reports on. We Do the Work was aware
of this double standard from the outset, and consequently is
produced entirely without union funding.
 
Having avoided the union-funding pitfall, We Do the Work has come
up against other excuses. Chicago's WTTW called the program "one-
sided." KETC in St. Louis rejected the program as being "too pro-
union"; the station vice president said he would not "bow to a
special interest" by airing it (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 12/6/90).
 
Leaving aside the point that programs like Wall $treet Week are
never scrutinized for one-sidedness by public TV executives, a look
at any episode of We Do the Work shows these complaints to be
exaggerated. When the program covered the efforts of workers at the
Delta Pride catfish processing plant to win a new contract (4/91),
the company refused to speak about the issue, so a narrator read
from Delta Pride press releases instead. While interviews with
workers formed the bulk of the show, also appearing were
representatives from several local business groups, a local
official sympathetic to Delta Pride management, and the CEO of
another catfish processor.
 
Other episodes covered subjects such as the effects of military
budget cuts on workers and injuries caused by working on computer
keyboards. "We believe that workers speak best for themselves,"
says Patrice O'Neill in explaining We Do the Work's approach.
Workers' voices, it seems, make some PBS executives uncomfortable.
 
Could public TV's reliance on corporate contributions fuel its
reluctance to carry labor programming? About a third of its funding
comes from major U.S. corporations, many with spotty labor records-
-such as AT&T, which has underwritten the MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour.
 
"The dearth of labor programming on public television is so severe
that it amounts to censorship," Fred Carroll, president of the
Union Producers and Programmers Network, told the Senate
Subcommittee on Communications in August 1991. Making We Do the
Work available to a national audience would be a step toward
lifting that censorship.
 
(Dorothee Benz is a free-lance writer and the Director of
Communications of International Ladies Garment Workers Union
(ILGWU) Local 23-25.)
 
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This article appears in the June 1992 issue of EXTRA!, the
publication of Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR). EXTRA!
focuses on media omissions and distortions, including the silencing
of labor and other public interest voices. Subscriptions are
$30/year, or $20/year for seniors, students, and those on a low
income. Send orders to FAIR/EXTRA! Subscription Service, P.O. Box
3000, Dept. FAR, Denville, NJ  07834.
 
For a sample copy of EXTRA! write to FAIR, 130 West 25th St., New
York, NY  10001. Email: [log in to unmask] Also available from FAIR:
 
    *** "Lost in the Margins: Labor and the Media," a special issue of
    EXTRA! that includes Jonathan Tasini's year long study of labor
    coverage. $2.50.
 
    *** "Prime Time Activism: Strategies for Grassroots Activists" by
    Charlotte Ryan. 295 pp. Drawing extensively on labor organizing
    experiences, this book is an essential tool for understanding,
    challenging and utilizing the media. Available from FAIR for
    $12.00 FAIR/130 W. 25th St./NY, NY 10001
 
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                    T o   C o n t a c t   P B S :
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(Answered by a person whose first question will be
whether this is a general comment or one about a particular show).
 
FAXes:
 
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PBS <--just(?)this   Alexandria VA       1-703-739-0775
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NPRRadio             San Francisco CA    1-415-553-2241
 
--Harel
 
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      Steve Carr                         [log in to unmask]
      Dept. of Radio-TV-Film             512/471-4071
      20903                              fax: 512/471-4077
      University of Texas at Austin
      Austin TX  78712