Submitted by: Mike Spindell, guest blogger
About a year ago I wrote a guest blog titled: PBS: Why I Watch But Don’t Contribute. In it I wrote about the history of PBS and of its’ seminal station WNET Channel 13 in New York. Through the years I’ve been privileged to watch some wonderful television on PBS from great plays to superb documentaries. Much of what PBS and channel 13 supplied to me was culture that was somewhat inaccessible from any other venue. What was so new and novel about the Public Television movement was that it was commercial free and so could greater explore subjects that were verboten in prime time commercial television. It also showed Americans the great programs being produced by the PBS analogue in Great Britain, the BBC. Far from being the “vast wasteland” of commercial TV described by JFK’s FCC head Newton Minnow, PBS showed what a wonderful medium television could be. At the core of this excellence was the fact that there were no sponsors to muzzle production values and dumb down the product.
Originally there was an organization called NET (National Education Television) which merged with New York’s Channel 13 in 1963. It had been operating under various names producing educational television programs that were distributed to various stations around the country. It had originally been funded via a grant from the Ford Foundation to produce educational programs. With the merger in 1963 the philosophy changed drastically in that the aim was to become America’s “Fourth TV Network”. When in 1966 the Ford Foundation began to withdraw funding the Federal Government stepped in.
“In 1966, NET’s viability came into question when the Ford Foundation decided to begin withdrawing financial support because of NET’s continual need for additional funding. In the meantime, the affiliated stations tried to keep the network alive by developing a reliable source of revenue.
The U.S. government intervened and created the Corporation for Public Broadcasting in 1967 to fund the network for the time being. However, the CPB’s intent was to create its own public broadcasting network. The CPB embarked on that course of action because many NET affiliates were alienated by the programming that network offered. These affiliates further felt that NET’s simultaneous production and distribution of programming constituted a conflict of interest.
PBS first began operations in 1969, with NET still producing several shows. However, NET’s refusal to stop airing the critically praised but controversial documentaries led to the decision of both Ford and the CPB to shut the network down. In early 1970, both threatened to cut their funding unless NET merged its operations with Newark, New Jersey public station WNDT-TV. (This did not, however, end the production and distribution of hard-hitting documentaries on public television, since PBS itself continues to distribute and CPB continues to help fund series including Frontline, POV and Independent Lens to this day.)
On Monday, October 5, 1970, the exact day that PBS began broadcasting, NET and WNDT-TV officially completed their merger. NET ceased to operate as a separate network from that point, although some NET-branded programming, such as NET Journal, was part of the PBS schedule for another couple of years before the identity was finally retired. WNDT’s call sign was changed to the present WNET shortly thereafter. Some shows that began on NET, such as Sesame Street, continue to air on PBS today.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Educational_Television
When the government took over the formerly independent WNET the changes were at first unnoticed. However, as is the nature of bureaucracy the independence of content and programming began to be subject to political needs and as a medium, the product became diminished into what can only be seen as TV, that while on occasion is daring and revolutionary, is purposed to support and glorify the corporate state and the elite that runs it. Occasionally, really courageous insightful programs will slip by and air. This though is happening less frequently as outside pressures force self censorship on producers. What follows are current examples of why this is true. Continue reading ‘PBS: Why I Watch But Don’t Contribute: Part Deux’