Public Broadcasting Spat in 'Bama Goes Very Public - Broadcasting & Cable

Public Broadcasting Spat in 'Bama Goes Very Public

Popular chief is dismissed, but no one is saying why
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What several insiders describe as a culture war has broken out in the Alabama Public Television world, and the state’s viewers may ultimately pay the cost. Allan Pizzato, longtime executive director of Alabama Public Television (APT), was fired in mid-June for reasons that may or may not pertain to infl uential members of the Alabama Educational Television Commission board pushing to air Christian programming on the PBS stations. Lawyers on both sides are sorting through the messy details now.

“It is absolutely damaging to the reputation of this state—that’s the sad thing,” said Mark White of Birmingham law firm White Arnold & Dowd, which is representing Pizzato. “The last thing Allan wants to see is what he created be destroyed, and this commission apparently is determined to do that.”

The APT executive director answers to the Alabama Educational Television Commission, whose seven members are appointed by the governor. Those with knowledge of the dynamics say the commission wields considerable power in programming decisions.

Minutes from an APT meeting on March 20 show that commission member Rod Herring brought up programming from WallBuilders, which describes its mission as “presenting America’s forgotten history and heroes, with an emphasis on the moral, religious and constitutional foundation on which America was built.” Herring suggested the programs air on APT. Pizzato expressed concern, citing legal counsel mentioning potential FCC issues related to the programs.

Minutes from the next APT meeting in June show another disagreement related to a program about evolution. Later in that meeting, Herring made a motion that the commission enter into an executive session to discuss “the general reputation, character and job performance” of Pizzato. When the session was over, Pizzato and deputy director Pauline Howland were fired.

Pizzato, who has more than 40 years of experience in the television business, had been executive director of APT since 2000. He referred all queries to his attorneys.

Herring would not say precisely what the reason for the dismissals was, but he insisted it was not related to programming. He noted that there is a long history of religious-themed programs on APT. “Somebody did something wrong and they were fired,” Herring said. “Somebody crossed certain lines in terms of ethical behavior.”

A half-dozen members of APT’s fund-raising wing have since resigned. The Alabama Educational Television Commission named Don Boomershine as APT interim executive director and overhauled the APT mission statement, sparking further controversy by taking a chunk of wording related to diversity off the website. Herring said APT supports diversity, but it is not part of its mission. The new statement, he added, is modeled after several other states’ PBS mission statements.

Sharon Tinsley, president of the Alabama Broadcasters Association, would not comment on the matter, saying her board has not decided if it is appropriate to weigh in.

Pizzato’s legal team sent a letter to the Alabama Educational Television Commission, demanding its members “preserve all information relevant and/or related to Mr. Pizzato” and the events that led to his firing. Attorney White said the fi rm will conclude its investigation in the next few weeks.

“Commissions set policy but don’t usually get involved in programming,” said White. “This commission decided it wanted to be involved in programming.”

E-mail comments to mmalone@nbmedia.com and follow him on Twitter: @BCMikeMalone

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