Haig’s `World Business’ causing public-TV firestorm

Feb 25, 2002  •  Post A Comment

A business program hosted by former Secretary of State Alexander Haig that airs on some public television stations flagrantly violates the federal government’s ban on public stations running ads.
That’s the conclusion of NPR’s “On the Media” radio show, which conducted a nine-month investigation into Gen. Haig’s “World Business Review” and concluded that it misleads viewers and even TV stations by purporting to be an objective business show when it’s not.
“It masquerades as programming when it is in fact advertising,” said “On the Media” host Bob Garfield, who’s also a columnist for Electronic Media’s sister publication Advertising Age. He was scheduled to air a report breaking the story this past Saturday and Sunday.
According to NPR, guests pay to appear on the series, but the financial connection is kept hidden from viewers.
The program lists its underwriter as the Alliance for Technology Education but does not tell viewers that the alliance is a for-profit corporation operated by the “World Business Review’s” producer, Multi Media Productions of Boca Raton, Fla.
In effect, Mr. Garfield said, Multi Media has set up a shell company to mask the connection between Mr. Haig and his guests-usually business and technology executives who are lobbed softball questions. The producers are also circumventing a federal ban on making undisclosed contributions to public broadcasters, he said.
“This kind of material has no place on public television and in my opinion should not be on commercial outlets unless it has better disclosure of its essence,” Mr. Garfield said. The show also appears on some commercial broadcast outlets and cable as paid programming.
Thomas Clynes, CEO of Multi Media and executive producer of the series, said in an e-mail that guests do not fund the episodes they appear in but do “contribute to the overall funding of the series.” He said guests have no editorial control and insisted the program is not an infomercial.
“NPR seems to be trying to discredit the concept of corporations underwriting a series and also having their executive appear on one of the shows of the series,” he wrote. When a panelist underwrites the program, there’s a disclaimer, he said.
Mr. Clynes, who serves as president of the alliance, which he described as an advisory board that also distributes the show, wrote, “Al Haig and our experts are not afraid to challenge our panelists if there [sic] input is questionable. However, generally speaking I would consider our show business friendly and not investigative or expose-like.”
Mr. Haig did not return calls. A Federal Communications Commission spokesman had no comment.
“If there is a problem, we will take the show off the air,” said Sherri Hope Culver, general manager of WYBE-TV in Philadelphia, an independent public TV station. “If the people who appear on the show pay the producers of the show, that is a problem.”
Until “On the Media” contacted her, she thought the series satisfied the station’s underwriting guidelines. Now she’s not so sure and has left phone messages with the producers seeking answers. As of deadline they had not called her back.
Two PBS members who air the show declined comment. WYCC-TV in Chicago did not return phone calls, and Connecticut Public Television referred inquiries to Multi Media. PBS spokeswoman Dara Goldberg had no reaction because “World Business Review” is not a PBS show and does not air nationally on the network. A few of the three dozen or so public TV stations that air the show have dropped it in the wake of NPR’s investigation.