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Controversy Continues Over US Public Broadcasting

Controversy continues over U.S. public broadcasting as opposing sides argue over the question of balance in news and other programming. The chairman of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which distributes federal funds to these non-commercial broadcasters, has faced sharp criticism in Congress, but continues to enjoy White House support.

The chairman of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which channels government funds to the non-commercial radio and television stations throughout the United States, has been trying to correct what he sees as liberal bias in their programming.

Chairman Kenneth Tomlinson, a member of the Republican Party, believes the CPB needs to exert more control over public broadcasting news and other content.

His actions provoked a flurry of criticism that he has tried to carry out a political agenda with the support of the White House, something he firmly denies.

This past week, the controversy moved into the U.S. Congress, as the House of Representatives considered a proposal to cut 100-million dollars from the 400-million dollar public broadcasting budget for 2006. The stations affected are mainly supported by corporate and private donations.

Republicans cited a tight federal government budget as justification for eliminating the funding, and sought to portray public broadcasting as a successful financial enterprise fully capable of withstanding such cuts:

Congresswoman Ginny Brown-Waite said "this is the height of absurdity. A massive corporation, shielding its profits, so it can continue to feed at the federal trough. Where is the Democrat outrage at this?"

Members of the opposition Democratic Party said public broadcasting was in danger of being politicized. Michigan Democrat John Dingell said "public broadcasting must remain not only fully funded, but insulated from the political pressures which are now being placed upon it."

The House of Representatives rejected the Republican-backed attempt to slash money for public broadcasting, an action that makes any new attempt to reduce funding in the Senate more unlikely.

However, controversy over Mr. Tomlinson's actions continues.

The selection of Patricia Harrison, a former co-chair of the Republican National Committee, as president of CPB, has brought new accusations of political bias.

Addressing CPB board members this week, Mr. Tomlinson repeated his view that the debate must be seen in the context of a legal requirement board members have to ensure balance, and a need to attract broader support from conservatives for public broadcasting. "If we want to continue to have broad-based support for public broadcasting, across the political spectrum, we in public broadcasting must do everything we can to demonstrate that we take our obligations under the law very seriously. At CPB that means we have to accept our responsibility under the public broadcasting act to encourage public broadcasting to offer balanced perspectives on controversial topics," he said.

Ernest Wilson was one of two CPB board members voting against the Harrison appointment. "We should especially stay away from partisanship in the selection of our next Chief Executive Officer. There is a flood of letters that says do not select someone who has been a high-level political appointee for one of the [political] parties, for either of the parties, and I think that is wise counsel," he said.

Linked to the debate over his actions regarding public broadcasting has been Mr. Tomlinson's other role as chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, the nine-member bipartisan board overseeing all U.S. government-funded international broadcasting, including the Voice of America and other radio and television stations.

In calling for Mr. Tomlinson's resignation from the public broadcasting board, one lawmaker asserts his other role with government-funded broadcasting validates concerns about alleged political bias.

Congressman Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, called for Mr. Tomlinson to step down from both his public and government broadcasting positions. "Ken Tomlinson has facilitated the attack upon the institution (CPB) that he was tasked with protecting. If [the] PBS is saved this week it will not be because of Ken Tomlinson, it will be in spite of Ken Tomlinson, and as a result he should resign, and in my opinion because of his ideological attack on the other international broadcasting board, he should resign from that as well," he said.

The reference to ideological attacks refers to allegations there have been attempts to skew programming of the Voice of America to more closely reflect administration views. VOA officials have strenuously denied this. The White House has said it continues to support Mr. Tomlinson's role at both the CPB and the Broadcasting Board of Governors.