love loathe stories like this – not because of how they’re reported or who they’re about, but because they are unfortunately true:
Most Americans likely assume that the NewsHour (which, after all, is made with support from viewers like you) is actually owned and produced by PBS. It is an understandable assumption considering PBS’s own president declared that the NewsHour “is ours, and ours alone,” and further considering that the program receives millions of public dollars every year.
However, since 1994, the NewsHour has been produced and primarily owned by the for-profit colossus, Liberty Media. Liberty, which is run by conservative billionaire John Malone, owns the majority stake in MacNeil/Lehrer Productions – the entity that produces the journalistic content of the show. While other standalone public television projects are often produced by small independent production companies, the NewsHour stands out for being owned by a major for-profit media conglomerate headed by a politically active billionaire.
But now that ownership is about to change. According to an internal memo sent to staff by NewsHour’s founders and minority owners Robert MacNeil and Jim Lehrer, ownership of NewsHour will soon be transferred from Liberty Media to Washington, D.C.’s PBS member station, WETA.
I know – I have a public television project – there are all kinds of weird machines whirring within every sausage factory. But this split of an ostensible public good into partnerships with for-profit companies more resembles how/where democracy goes to die, if I can borrow from Pierce (And I can. Everyone can). Just look at the language MacNeil/Lehrer uses use to justify the need for an ownership change, proving you can tell yourself most anything.
And the point isn’t just the loss of a source once perhaps trusted that now should be applied only by trained cynical professionals. The realization, if that’s what it is, is that independent media outlets practically need to be hardcore believers to exist at all – despite the success of some, it’s a drag when the most important societal functions can only be left in the hands of the pure of heart and selfless of motive.
Image: 1970s PBS children’s series “The Electric Company.”