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CPB Inspector General Declines to Investigate

On December 12, 2005, RADAR called for the CPB Inspector General to "conduct a broad inquiry to assess why CPB's current policies and procedures failed to prevent the approval and broadcast of Breaking the Silence " and to "make specific recommendations how to prevent a recurrence of this serious violation of CPB's legal mandate." <http://www.mediaradar.org/docs/RADAR_letterToCPB_InspectorGeneral.pdf> On January 24, 2006, CPB Inspector General Kenneth Konz sent the response below to an individual who made a similar request.


Dear Mr. Zamzow:

This refers to your recent request for my office to initiate an investigation of " Breaking the Silence: Children's Stories ," broadcast by the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) on October 20, 2005, regarding the accuracy, fairness and balance of its content.

It should be noted that your complaints have been addressed by the Office of the Ombudsmen for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB). This resulted in two reports to the CPB President and Board of Directors essentially agreeing with your criticism over the program's content, a copy of which may be found on the CPB website, <http://www.cpb.org/ombudsmen/reports.html>. Under the Ombudsmen Charter, his comments, which can only be made after programs are aired, are designed "to encourage public dialogue aimed at achieving high standards of excellence and balance in public broadcasting."

Since the CPB provided no funding to the documentary in question, it has no direct control over its content, and I have no jurisdiction in this matter. Your complaint would be more appropriately directed to PBS. In fact, with regard to programs that CPB did not fund and which have already been broadcast, there appears to be little that the CPB can do other than encourage open dialogue, as it did through its ombudsman, to help prevent such occurrences in the future.

Even if there had been CPB funding, a CPB report to Congress in 1997 concluded the CPB's statutory and constitutional authority with regard to controlling program content is "complex and sometimes contradictory." The Public Broadcasting Act of 1967 contains three specific provisions relating to the CPB's authority to influence or control program content, two of which emphasize station independence. The first expresses Congressional intent in creating the CPB as a private corporation "to afford maximum protection from extraneous interference and control." 47 USC § 396(a) (10). The second, which is the authority referred to in your letter, authorizes the CPB to:

"(A) facilitate the full development of public telecommunications in which programs of high quality, diversity, creativity, excellence and innovation, which are obtained from diverse sources, will be made available to public telecommunications entities, with strict adherence to objectivity and balance in all programs or series of programs of a controversial nature." 47 USC § 396(g) (1) (A).

Finally, the CPB is directed to "carry out its purposes and engage in its activities in ways that will most effectively assure the maximum freedom of the public telecommunications entities and systems from interference with, or control of, program content or other activities." 47 USC § 396(g) (1) (D).

Beyond the provisions of the Public Broadcasting Act, CPB has no jurisdiction to regulate the conduct of the stations it supports. The CPB was not created to be a regulatory body. Under the Federal Communications Act, Congress clearly intended the power to regulate broadcast license holder to remain with the Federal Communications Commission, which, unlike the CPB, has the power to propose and enforce regulations and assess fines or penalties. Further, CPB is specifically prohibited by statute from owning or operating a television station or producing programs. 47 USC § 396 (g) (3). At most, the CPB has the ability to raise questions relating to balance with regard to programs receiving CPB program grants, recover program grants after finding that the grants terms have been breached and to refrain from providing financial support to classes of license holders.

I must decline your request. In light of the restrictions cited above related to CPB's authority over program content and the absence of CPB funding, there are no grants for this office to audit. While the CPB can consider this program's content with respect to making future grants and influencing future producer decisions with regard to controversial programming, there is nothing for an inspector general to do here since you have already brought your concerns to the CPB Board and management.

We appreciate your concern for public broadcasting.

Sincerely,

Kenneth A. Konz
Inspector General