FCC Commissioner Susan Ness praised PBS at its fall planning meeting last week in Arlington, Va., but she had some polite words of warning, too:

"As a policymaker, I ardently believe that, if you steadfastly deliver on your promise, then Congress and those of us at the Federal Communications Commission and in other policy-making bodies have an obligation to do everything in our power to give you the tools to accomplish your mission.

"But it is not easy for you to stay focused when your viewers are bombarded with so many different forms of new media. Or when you are tempted to expand commercial messages or lease out a substantial portion of your spectrum for non-educational purposes in exchange for money that could help pay for all of the good things that public television delivers..

"Public broadcasting has a precious birthright to serve the public with free, over-the-air educational, noncommercial programming. But if you allow commercialism to permeate public broadcasting, the picture becomes fuzzy. Your mission is clouded. And your support in your community and in Washington wanes."