PBS Ombudsman Finds Risk in Heart Funders

The Mysterious Human Heart Sponsored by AstraZeneca, Medtronic

PBS ombudsman Michael Getler said he agreed with the central point of criticisms leveled at the underwriting for PBS' just-concluded special, The Mysterious Human Heart, as too close to the subject for comfort.

The Center for Digital Democracy's Jeff Chester complained that the show was sponsored by pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca and medical-technology firm Medtronic, which have major financial interests in heart-disease issues, as well as some recent problems that were not mentioned in a press release promoting their sponsorship.

A viewer also wrote Getler pointing out that viewers were not warned about possible connections between on-camera experts in the show and the sponsors.

While calling the show "intelligent, informative and well-presented," Getler said, "It is hard to imagine what goes through the minds of officials when the history of problems encountered by two of the main funders of this series goes back two years."

Whatever the good intentions of the sponsors or the difficulties in getting funding for noncommercial shows, Getler said the PBS "perception test," which is part of its underwriting guidelines, "pretty well nails this issue down," given one example's "eerily close" proximity to the actual situation.

"[A] nonprofit organization whose mission is to eradicate heart disease or to raise money for leukemia research could not fund a program designed to education the public about these respective illnesses,” Getler added. “Even though there might be few who would criticize the goals of these organizations, a reasonable segment of the public might readily conclude that the program was created solely to promote the interests of the funder."