Washington Watch


CPB’s Ethics Infusion

At its May 1 meeting, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) board voted to adopt several changes in response to criticisms leveled in an Inspector General (IG) report last fall.

The moves will “ensure greater transparency, strengthen Code of Ethics and instill best-practices in employment decisions,” says CPB in a release.

Calling it the result of a top-to-bottom review, CPB CEO Patricia Harrison, whose own hiring was the object of IG criticism, says the improvements go “well beyond technical compliance with the recommendations.” She calls them “just the beginning.”

The IG report was prompted by legislators concerned with former CPB Chairman Ken Tomlinson’s efforts to balance what he considered a liberal bias in noncommercial programming. That included hiring an outside consultant to review that bias. The IG last November also concluded that CPB had used “political tests” to recruit Harrison, the former co-chair of the Republican National Committee.

Calling the moves a “good first step,” Center for Digital Democracy’s Jeff Chester says, “More must be done to ensure open meetings and accountability, including having board meetings shown live on video.”

Gridlock Stalls FCC Nomination

Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) is getting frustrated with the hold on the nomination of Robert McDowell to the open commissioner seat on the FCC.

Stevens, who backs McDowell for the appointment, says he would ask Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) about the hold but Rockefeller is recovering from recent surgery. Rockefeller’s office has never confirmed or denied the hold.

Stevens is concerned that the telecom bill his committee is working on (see story, this page) will put added demands on the FCC, he told reporters last week: “We are going to be very timely with the new bill we have out. We’re going to give the FCC a lot more power, and they have to have a balanced membership.”

The FCC is already backed up and facing a host of new rulemakings if the telecom bill passes.

With the seat still vacant, the commission has yet to even start a rewrite of ownership rules almost two years after a court told it to do so, and it is still mulling Comcast/Time Warner’s takeover of Adelphia—day 334 at press time of Adelphia Held Hostage (actually, a number of other factors have played into that delay, including Adelphia’s bankruptcy proceeding).

Meanwhile, many license renewals and station sales are held up by the flood of indecency complaints. Historically, the commission won’t process either while there is an outstanding complaint. When there were only a handful of such complaints a year, the impact was negligible. Today, they can—and do—reach into the hundreds of thousands.

Christians Cheer FCC Chief

The Christian Coalition has asked its members to send FCC Chairman Kevin Martin a thank-you note for the FCC’s recent proposed indecency fines, among other things.

“Chairman Martin has done a tremendous job in enforcing the indecency rules,” the group says, “such as proposing a record $3.6 million fine against dozens of CBS stations and affiliates for indecency on television.”

The coalition put out an action alert commending Martin for the indecency crackdown, as well as for remarks at the recent National Association of Broadcasters convention in Las Vegas that, with still a large number of viewers without V chip-enabled TV sets, technology alone is not sufficient to prevent kids from watching the kind of programming the FCC is cracking down on.