“Public” Broadcasting or Propaganda Radio?

30 May

PBS fo real

In light of the recent criticism of PBS (Public Broadcasting Service) on Democracy Now!  I thought it was a good idea to look if corporate propaganda spewed by that public broadcasting station and National Public Radio (NPR) as well. One must wonder if is as propagandistic as the white propaganda outlets integrated into the US government.

I start with a quote from today’s Democracy Now! show:

“In Jane Mayer’s New Yorker article, she details how Neil Shapiro, president of PBS station WNET here in New York City, called David Koch, a resident of 740 Park Avenue, to warn him that the Alex Gibney film was, quote, “going to be controversial.” Koch was a WNET board trustee at the time. Over the years, he has given $23 million to public television. Jane Mayer writes that Shapiro offered to show him the trailer and include him in an on-air discussion that would air immediately after the film. The station ultimately took the unusual step of airing a disclaimer from Koch after the film that called it “disappointing and divisive.” Jane Mayer reports this exchange influenced what then happened to Citizen Koch, which was set to be aired on the same PBS series called Independent Lens. The film’s funder and distributor, ITVS, has now said it, quote, “decided not to move forward with the project…So, in essence, what we’re looking at here is not necessarily a direct intervention by Koch, but self-censorship by the public television community in an effort to prevent someone like Koch from pulling their dollars out.”

So maybe when Noam Chomsky said PBS was for a set of political elite, he was right. Now, this isn’t the only thing that PBS has refused. On an interview on The Real News Network, investigative journalist Greg Palast noted the following:

For British television, I investigated what really happened. Actually, right after Deepwater Horizon exploded on April 20, 2010, I get a message from a witness, an insider from the Caspian Sea, which is, you know, the other side of the planet, in Asia, saying, I know exactly what happened here, ’cause the exact same thing happened in the Caspian Sea two years earlier: there was another BP rig €”another BP rig blew out, just like the Deepwater Horizon. And BP covered it up. BP hid it because it occurred offshore off the nation of Azerbaijan, which is what I call in my book Vultures’ Picnic, I called it the Islamic Republic of BP. They own that place….But I put it on TV more than a year ago in Britain. It was all over the top of the nightly news all over the world, all over Europe, everywhere but the United States, where you could not get it on TV. You couldn’t get it into the news here for love or money. No way. And, you know, the Petroleum Broadcast System, PBS, was the worst of all. They absolutely refused to take the information. We offered it to them…I got to tell you, Frontline, for example, was offered our material, Frontline, PBS. Instead they ran a story that the Deepwater Horizon was caused by a so-called culture of lack of safety at BP, and they said specifically you’ll love this—that if it had been Chevron, this would not have happened, the Deepwater Horizon explosion. They actually had the president of Chevron saying, we wouldn’t have done this. But Chevron knew about the Caspian explosion, covered it up. I investigated Chevron. If you go, again, to VulturesPicnic.org or GregPalast.com, you’ll get the information from Vultures’ Picnic that Chevron, you know, basically poisoned the Amazon Jungle areas, big parts of the Amazon in Ecuador. So PBS is basically fronting for Chevron. Why? Take a look at Chevron and at the PBS NewsHour home page. You have to go into the WayBack machine, in which you will find out that the number-one official national sponsor of NewsHour and PBS is Chevron oil. So what you’re getting is Chevron news, not real news. And the best, that’s PBS.”

That isn’t the case anymore, but using the current list of funders which is backed up by the page on the Internet Archive Wayback Machine, these two pictures I made below reflect more accurately the reality:

pbs newshour pbs newshour corporate

So, you’ll get news from a big oil company that caused the worst oil spill in US history, AT&T that has ok’d the National Call Database that stores all your phone calls, the Rockefeller Foundation which is a CIA front, and BNSF which paid a settlement of $2.5 million dollars for “discharging industrial stormwater containing toxic metals from an urban rail yard directly into the Puget Sound.” Then, there’s the Corporation of Public Broadcasting, but I’ll get to that later on. As a result, its no surprise that PBS Newshour would, according to FAIR (Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting) would write in November 2012 that:

“A FAIR Action Alert (10/24/12) criticized the PBS NewsHour for reporting that “Iran’s nuclear weapons program has been a particular flash point” in the presidential race. As we noted, there is no hard evidence that Iran has such a weapons program; in fact, international inspections have consistently found no evidence that Iran has diverted uranium for military purposes…This is important, and wouldn’t have happened without the letter-writing. PBS did not issue an on-air correction, which is unfortunate. But you can’t help but feel like the NewsHour doesn’t really feel like they need to correct much–hence the reference to “Iran’s widely suspected military ambitions in pursuing nuclear energy.” Widely suspected by whom? They don’t say. What is clear is that the NewsHour knows they shouldn’t have reported this allegation as if it were a fact–but they want you to know that the allegation is considered a fact by a lot of serious people nonetheless.”

This is followed up by a post this April about how Margaret Thatcher, a free-market fundamentalist, was shown with kind words on PBS’s NewsHour:

“Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s death yesterday brought waves of mostly flattering coverage of the divisive right-wing leader.  It was striking to see the parallels between the way Thatcher was covered on the PBS NewsHour and Fox News Channel‘s most popular show, the O’Reilly Factor…The main Thatcher segment on the PBS newscast was a discussion with two former Republican secretaries of State, George Shultz and James Baker. Of course, both were big fans of Thatcher’s foreign policy…It was more than that, too; as Baker put it, Thatcher “emphasized the private sector and got rid of the oppressive influence of the trade unions.”…PBS had one other guest: former Conservative Canadian Prime Minister Kim Campbell, who cheered both Thatcher’s defeat of unions but also her humanity: “It’s kind of touching to be reminded of what a lovely woman she was.”…On PBS…reporter Margaret Warner declared that Thatcher “brought a free market revolution to Britain, lowering taxes and privatizing state industries…. Britain’s economy rebounded from her tough medicine.”…PBS is supposed to be about giving us the views that we’re not getting from the commercial media.”

Now, there are some more instances of PBS spreading propaganda. The worst includes the sponsoring of a show called America’s Heartland by Monsanto (and many others). The New Standard wrote in 2005:

“A new television series set for distribution this fall to public TV stations across the country is drawing fire from activists who say its funders exploit a model of factory farming that has profoundly undermined the same rustic lifestyle the program is meant to showcase. The telecast, America’s Heartland, consists of twenty half-hour episodes produced by PBS affiliate KVIE in Sacramento and is based on a popular, long-running KVIE broadcast called California Heartland. While the bulk of the new national program’s underwriting will be provided by the farming trade group the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) and biotech giant Monsanto, the show is also receiving financial support from other large farming associations such as the National Cotton Council, United Soybean Board and the US Grains Council…In a letter sent to public television managers about America’s Heartland, 70 groups “ including IATP, Public Citizen, Friends of the Earth, and the Organic Consumers Association “ suggest stations should either forego showing the series or schedule complementary programming to expose Heartland as a “piece of propaganda.”…They point out that Monsanto and the American Farm Bureau promote policies that “place the US food supply into the hands of a few major corporations” by pressuring politicians to keep federal subsidies flowing to large agribusinesses…Sheldon Rampton, research director at the Center for Media and Democracy, a media watchdog group, said a series like America’s Heartland can poison news-gathering at cash-strapped and politically insecure PBS stations. “The [funders] understand [station programmers] have a limited news hole,” he said, and “when someone else proposes programming [on a similar subject], they can say we’ve already covered that topic.””

If you go back in the Internet Archive Wayback Machine, you’ll see this:

monsanto and more

What about the sponsors of this show now? Well, the show which makes itself sound so grand, its still sponsored by a lot of the same industry groups, as a recent screencap shows:

sponsors of america's heartland 2013

There are more instances of this occurring, as with a new show on PBS called “The Rise of the Drones” which is interesting funded by Lockheed Martin which makes (you guessed it) drones. FAIR has the whole story here:

“The PBS Nova broadcast “Rise of the Drones” was sponsored by drone manufacturer Lockheed Martin–a clear violation of PBS‘s underwriting guidelines…Some of that technology, unbeknownst to viewers, was created by the company described as giving Nova “additional funding” at the beginning of the broadcast. Lockheed Martin, a major military contractor with $46 billion in 2011 sales, is a manufacturer of drones used in warfare and intelligence…The show did not entirely skirt the controversies over drones. A section of the broadcast dealt with drone pilots firing on targets in countries like Afghanistan or Pakistan. Viewers, though, are told that drone pilots have distinct advantage over conventional pilots…The show does not ignore the question of civilian deaths…But, in keeping with the generally upbeat tone, Nova tells viewers that technology will help turn things around…The program’s sponsorship tie to the drone industry were never mentioned–though there were opportunities to disclose that relationship. In addition to Lockheed Martin’s connection to one of the interview subjects, the show discussed a U.S. drone that was captured by Iran–without mentioning that it was manufactured by Nova‘s underwriter…Though the broadcast included an underwriting announcement at the beginning [on TV]…that credit was removed from the webcast, and the company is not credited on the Nova website for the episode.”

Since that post was written, PBS’s Ombudsman said Lockheed’s sponsorship presents  “a perception and commercial test problem for PBS.” However this should be no surprise because if you go on the site of the Rise of the Drones you’ll find that some of their “PRODUCTION ASSISTANTS” include AAI/ Textron Systems, Department of Defense, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and Vanguard Defense Industries with “special thanks” given to BAE Systems, Inc. among others. Additionally a screencap from NOVA showed that two of their biggest sponsors are Boeing and the the David H. Koch Fund for Science which is run by one of the Koch Brothers:

sponsors of NOVA

Watchdog Progressive even writes about this, noting the sponsorship of NOVA by David Koch, saying that it could be part of Koch’s agenda to promote greenwashing.

The list of such programs sponsored by corporations doesn’t end here. There’s another one, since discontinued called “America Revealed” which officially was a “look at what makes America tick, what it takes to keeps the biggest food machine in the world going, the delicate balance that keeps our supermarkets stocked with groceries and fast food restaurants supplied with fries. How we keep America moving with its vast and complex transport systems.” Interestingly enough, in an archived homepage of the show, you can see their premier sponsor is Dow, which is the second biggest chemical company in the world by revenue after BASF and third biggest by capitalization (DuPont and Basf would be bigger). FAIR criticizes PBS for this show and notes the following:

“PBS ombud Michael Getler…agrees that the Dow Chemical Corporation’s sponsorship of a PBS series violates PBS underwriting guidelines. PBS, unfortunately, stands by its show. A FAIR Action Alert… pointed out that the decision to allow Dow to sponsor the series America Revealed, which deals with issues that closely track Dow’s business interests, flies in the face of PBS funding guidelines. Noting that he had received some 500 messages inspired by the alert, Getler agreed, saying that “the points raised by FAIR were fair ones, in my view, and many of the letters were quite comprehensive in their criticisms.”…The main problem with the funding arrangement, as Getler sees it, is that it fails the PBS “perception test,” which warns against allowing underwriting if viewers might “perceive that the underwriter has exercised editorial control.”…Getler wrote that “it would indeed be surprising if “a significant portion” of viewers, whether they write to me or not, or subscribe to FAIR or not, would not make some connection with Dow, its full range of operations, and the plus-side of this series. It took about 30 seconds for that to pop into my head as a viewer.”PBS, which has given corporate underwriters a pass several times over the years…does not think so. In response to several questions from Getler, PBS defended Dow’s sponsorship. They pointed out that the company has sponsored other programming, including An Evening With Smokey Robinson…As FAIR pointed out in the alert–and Getler agreed in his column–it would not be hard for an alert viewer to make a connection between Dow’s interests and the program it was sponsoring. One segment touted genetically modified corn, a controversial product made by Dow, as a “game changer” for agriculture; the four parts of the series…perfectly matched the four areas of business Dow touts on its website.PBS stressed that Dow was not involved editorially in the program. That may indeed be the case. It is also irrelevant, in that their perception test does not require such a direct link.”

Now, FAIR has also written twice (here and here) about changing PBS’s funding system and how it stymies some of the best work of Public TV. As I end the examination of PBS, I just took some screenshots of the donors recognized by PBS (which include the CIA front, the Ford Foundation) and the corporate sponsors of the Sponsorship Group for Public Television which gives money to PBS:

sponsors of SGPTV PBS founding funders

This is why PBS is called Petroleum Broadcasting Service or Propaganda Broadcasting Service.

Now, onto National Public Radio itself, which some call National Pentagon Radio (or National Propaganda Radio). I wrote about this on my now archived HermannView tumblr blog: “The American multinational giant, Yahoo! just bought Tumblr. I heard about this from that NPR, oh sorry National Propaganda Radio, show called Marketplace which just loves drones (http://www.directionsmag.com/podcasts/drones-war-machine-today-helpful-tool-tomorrow-npr-marketplace/303007), Monsanto (http://www.organicconsumers.org/bytes/ob276.htm), and is propaganda for Wall Street (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Occupy-Marketplace/218790781520139).” Now, there is more to NPR than which I write about. The corporate sponsorship page doesn’t say much about this, so I looked farther into the organization itself. It’s 2010 Annual Report, the most recent on its website gives the following sponsors (starting on page 26).

THE REAL NPR LOGO

Yes, I didn’t include all of the sponsors, only the corporate one (not even all of them because there’s so many!) but I was trying to make a point if there are any of those naysayers out there.

Now, taking this in mind, one begins to wonder: Is NPR really a public radio station or is it helping the elite? Well, NPR’s Ombudsman responded to FAIR’s study, saying:

“FAIR is a media watchdog group that describes itself as “progressive” — i.e., on the left. The study…assessed NPR interviews in its newsmagazine programs for June 2003. The study also looked at which experts were invited to speak on NPR over a four-month period from May to August of that year…FAIR says that NPR regularly has “elite” (FAIR’s term) experts and opinion makers to comment on events. This group of current and former government officials accounts for 28 percent of the interviews and commentaries. Twenty six percent were “professional experts” (academics, think tank experts, lawyers, doctors and scientists). Seven percent were journalists but overwhelmingly (83 percent) these journalists were from mainstream commercial outlets…FAIR says that NPR has improved in a couple of respects…Although there are more women on the air, they are still a minority of voices interviewed on NPR…The FAIR study seems about right to me with a couple of exceptions. In a similar study I commissioned, we looked at NPR interviews over a two-month period from Nov. 24, 2003 through Jan. 23, 2004. It is not entirely fair (as it were) to compare the studies since they were done at different times..Is NPR now ignoring the Democrats in a way it once may have ignored the Republicans? I have criticized NPR in the past for its narrow reliance on a few bright men (and they are overwhelmingly male)..Listeners are quick to dash to their e-mails when they hear an opinion that is not their own. NPR ‘s role, it seems to me is not to provide listeners with intellectual comfort food. FAIR is concerned whether the pendulum has swung too far. That’s my concern as well…At the same time, FAIR’s study seems to reinforce the notion that what constitutes the center in American journalism is rapidly becoming an endangered species.”

There is a host of articles criticizing NPR on CounterPunch and FAIR including but not limited to:

  1. NPR and the NAFTA Highway [about NAFTA and downplaying the construction of a highway]
  2. Spinners of Venezuelan Fairy Tales An Open Letter to All Things Considered: NPR’s Spinnners of Venezuelan Fairy Tales
  3. “No Doubt, It Needed to Happen”: NPR News: National Pentagon Radio?
  4. NPR Watch: Why NPR Refuses to Report on the Single Payer Movement … And What Should be Done About It
  5. Fanning the Hysteria About Iran: NPR Leads the Charge to War
  6. The Voice of a Quaker Hawk: Scott Simon, NPR & The Empire
  7. Expert Opinions: NPR: the Voices and Views of One Side
  8. Who Needs the Voice of America?: National Pentagon Radio (NPR) Watch
  9. NPR, the New York Times and Nicholas Kristof: Advocating Sweatshops
  10. Race, Politics and NPR: Was Juan Williams “Lynched”?
  11. An Open Letter to NPR’s Producers: The Distortions of NPR on Palestine
  12. NPR vs. Free Speech — FAIR: Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting
  13. NPR Disappears Iraqi Dead — FAIR: Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting
  14. NPR Ombud: ‘Critics are right’ on Zinn obituary — FAIR: Fairness & Accuracy…
  15. Is Critical Journalism Incomprehensible to NPR?
  16. NPR Could Use Some ‘Energy Independence’ of Its Own
Also, this article on Reader Supported News is relevant, reposting a story by the ombudsman at the time:
NPR hasn’t aired a story on the “Occupy Wall Street” protest— now entering its second week — but several of you aired your concerns about the lack of coverage, and Ralph Nader called to say NPR is ignoring the left. “You’ll cover the Tea Party, but god forbid you actually cover sane Americans demanding civilized economic policy,” wrote Brad Nolen from Mobile, AL. NPR.org included a stream of Associated Press stories on the subject such as Dozens Arrested at ‘Occupy Wall Street’ Protest, 80 People Arrested at ‘Occupy Wall Street’ Protest, and Protesters Vow To Camp Near Wall St. Indefinitely.  But the online posts were not enough for Daniel Clay from Atlanta, GA, who wrote, “Does NPR think this is unimportant? Are you going to wait for someone to die or commit serious violence before you give it the attention it deserves?” We asked the newsroom to explain their editorial decision. Executive editor for news came back: “The recent protests on Wall Street did not involve large numbers of people, prominent people, a great disruption or an especially clear objective.” As ombudsman, I don’t weigh in on daily news judgment unless its totally egregious or part of a long term trend, and this one is neither. But the complaints have validity, too. Nader’s complaint is a broader one about how much he and other progressive war horses of his generation are interviewed on NPR in comparison to Tea Party leaders and the like. Nader is no longer the political player he once was and the left is not as organized as in the past. See this New York Times that ran yesterday. Still, I do want to follow whether the left is being shortchanged in coverage. Feel free to share your thoughts, and we’ll make sure that they get to the newsroom.”
I end with a quick look at the Board Members of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting which includes a California Business Lawyer, a former Democratic Senator and a former manager of a public radio broadcaster. That’s all for now as I find a page describing all of the public radio outlets in the country. In the end, all I can say is always be careful what you watch/listen to on PBS, the Petroleum Broadcasting Service, or NPR, National Pentagon Radio, because it isn’t meant for you, its a message that’s meant for a certain section of the ruling elite of this country.

4 Responses to ““Public” Broadcasting or Propaganda Radio?”

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