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The public be bland.

A radio listener in Slinger, Wisconsin, wrote to his public radio station, WUWM in Milwaukee, suggesting that it air Insight, my brief (two-and-a-half-minute) daily commentary on the news. Since January of this year, The Progressive has been distributing Insight--free--by satellite transmission or cassette to listener-supported, community, and public radio stations in the United States and Canada. At latest count, some thirty-eight stations were putting Insight on the air. (See inside back cover.)

Dave Edwards, the director of WUWM, replied as follows to the listener in Slinger:

"WUWM broadcasts both liberal and conservative viewpoints in the programming we present from National Public Radio. Although Mr. Knoll is well respected, I do not believe that we would want to stray from the balance that we receive from NPR."

Thanks, Dave, but I'd rather be heard than "well respected." And as a public-radio listener, I'd rather hear broadcasting that strays from the bland fare you call "balance."

For about a year in the early 1980s, I delivered a weekly commentary--much like today's Insight--on NPR's afternoon All Things Considered. In those distant days, I wasn't the only leftist whose views received a regular airing on NPR--and we were "balanced" by right-wing commentators. But NPR has shifted decidedly to the right since then; the conservative pundits are still there, but the leftists are gone. My friend Daniel Schorr, who rarely strays from the center, is about as far left as NPR gets these days.

The result is not only a lack of "balance" but an absence of lively publicaffairs discourse on NPR. I'm not talking about Insight alone, which is aired by only five NPR-affiliated stations. Laura Flanders produces a stimulating mediacriticism program called CounterSpin for Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), and David Barsamian of Boulder, Colorado, is a source of constant highquality radio broadcasting that challenges conventional political wisdom. But while such programs find listeners on community and listener-sponsored stations (as Insight does), they are virtually frozen out by NPR affiliates (as Insight is).

The public loses.

The situation in public television is no better, and may even be worse. A medium that was specifically mandated to "provide a voice for groups in the community that would otherwise go unheard" has become, instead, just another outlet for the views of corporate underwriters.

On August 17, thirty-two members of the Congressional Black Caucus dispatched a letter to Ervin S. Duggan, the president of the Public Broadcasting Service, protesting PBS's shabby treatment of the award-winning human-rights series, Rights & Wrongs, which will be forced off the air this fall unless it receives PBS funding and distribution.

Rights & Wrongs, anchored by a sixteen-year public-television veteran, Charlayne Hunter-Gault of The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour, has been rejected by PBS on grounds that "human rights is an insufficient organizing principle for a TV series."

"Astonishingly, PBS has continued to refuse to distribute the program even though Rights & Wrongs has raised $1.5 million on its own for its production through September," the Black Caucus members wrote.

"In light of this gap in your programming, we are at a loss to understand your rejection of a balanced and responsible program which not only analyzes current challenges to human rights but also provides a catalyst for improving global communications."

Caucus members also urged Duggan to consider "the clear need for increased public-television distribution of programs that speak to the interests of a more diverse audience."

The Coalition vs. PBS Censorship, which has protested previous PBS decisions not to air documentaries dealing with controversial topics, has taken up the cause of Rights & Wrongs, and urges TV viewers to join in protests to Duggan, whose address at PBS is: 1320 Braddock Place, Alexandria, VA 22314.

Says Mark Mori, the Coalition's founder, "PBS has turned down countless quality documentaries over the years, including four recent Oscar winners. In this case, they are turning down an entire series with a major talent on a crucial subject of concern to all Americans. The contradiction between what PBS says and what it does has never been more apparent."

For more information about the Coalition's work, write to P.O. Box 485, Santa Monica, CA 90406.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:public radio and TV political timidity
Author:Knoll, Erwin
Publication:The Progressive
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Oct 1, 1994
Words:687
Previous Article:An Eye For An Eye.
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