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PBS Funding Battle Invigorates Activists

February 19, 2007 12:00 AM

Never let it be said that congressional budget battles are uninteresting-at least not when it comes to public broadcasting's funding. Last we left off, President Bush had proposed nearly a 25 percent cut-at least $114 million-in funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting in his 2007 budget, prompting expressions of outrage from public broadcasters. Now it has triggered a bit of a political fight. On one side, MoveOn.org and several other groups active in the media consolidation debate have a launched a petition drive urging Congress to give greater support for public broadcasting. "Congress must save NPR and PBS once and for all. Congress should guarantee permanent funding and independence from partisan meddling," the petition says. MoveOn's activity prompted the conservative American Family Association, headed by the Rev. Donald Wildmon, to start a campaign to get Congress to end all public broadcasting funding, countering with a petition drive of its own. The Rev. Wildmon argues that people who watch and listen to public broadcasting-not taxpayers-should pay for it. The news broadcast by PBS is "the most liberal-slanted news in the country," he told TelevisionWeek. "If they want to do it, that's fine, just don't force the public to pay for it. We don't have a government-funded newspaper," he said, adding that cable nets like History Channel and the Travel Channel now carry programming similar to that of PBS.

A CPB spokesman said polls show Americans overwhelmingly feel Congress should fund public broadcasting and also that PBS remains the most trusted public affairs source. John Lawson, president and CEO of the Association of Public Television stations, said its own budget has gotten a good reception on Capitol Hill. "Neither MoveOn.org nor the American Family Association has bothered even to contact us to find out what public broadcasters are actually proposing. So I guess the two groups can have this sideshow debate between themselves," he said. -Ira Teinowitz

Stations on `Jury Duty'

Blink was baffled in recent weeks to see a distributor not boast about clearances for an upcoming first-run series. Foster Entertainment, which is distributing upcoming syndicated court show "Jury Duty" to stations for a fall launch, delivered a number of press releases pre- and post-NATPE claiming that the series had signed deals that would deliver the strip to 65 percent of the country. Conspicuously absent, however, were any references to who, exactly, had bought the show, which will feature a trio of celebrities serving as the jury to lawsuits, with defense attorney Bruce Cutler presiding as judge. Turns out Foster Entertainment's pending lawsuit against Warner Bros. was the cause of the omission, according to company President Diana Foster. Warner Bros. had been considering a similar series entitled "Celebrity Jury" for the fall season and Ms. Foster's production partner Radar Entertainment claims to have pitched the series years ago to the distributor. Blink, however, utilized its network of sources to uncover these mystery stations: KCAL-TV in Los Angeles, WCIU-TV in Chicago and WJAL-TV in Washington, D.C. While it has no New York home yet, the strip is also settled in Houston, Dallas, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Detroit on outlets from stations groups that include Hearst-Argyle, Meredith and Viacom. The deals were all on a barter basis for the fall. Executives at Foster and Radar did not return calls following the discovery of the stations.

-Chris Pursell

Fuse Wipes Out

Item: Branded toilet paper

Company: Fuse

Promoting: The new sketch comedy "The Whitest Kids U' Know," premiering March 20

Comment: The usefulness of publicity freebies often turns on the reporter's level of desperation. Do you need a tote bag or T-shirt badly enough to use one clearly stamped with a network logo? Installing the "Whitest Kids" toilet paper in a commode raises two concerns. First, that the image's black ink might rub off somewhere it shouldn't. Second, that you will appear desperate for toilet paper to a spectacular degree. -James Hibberd