Channel Turfing

Minorities struggle for a foothold in public television's digital future

Hugh Carter Donahue, associate director of the Information and Society Program at the Annenberg Public Policy Center, takes pains to point out that PBS ''has a vital role to play in the DTV future,'' but he suggests another use of the analog spectrum. ''Twenty-five percent of that spectrum in each market should be put aside for public affairs and other programming that is local in origin, content, and interest,'' Donahue says. He suggests auctioning only 50 percent of the spectrum and redirecting that money from the Treasury toward a programming fund. ''The hallmark and ruse of American broadcasting has been the notion that the broadcaster serves their community,'' he adds. ''This could make true localism a reality at last.''

''That kind of access is an important goal, but it's not enough,'' claims CPB's Carpenter. ''CPB has the experience and the expertise to create quality programming. We believe that puts us in the best position to partner with schools, libraries, and other nonprofit groups to deliver digital programs and services.''

Commission member James Yee, the executive director of the Independent Television Service (ITVS) in San Francisco, a CPB-funded organization that awards grants to independent producers, admits there's no neat answer on funding. ''There's been a lot of hyperbole and speculation about how something like a trust fund could work. We haven't even discussed the mechanics or the infrastructure.'' Yee cautions against creating another entity without adequate funding, a longstanding problem for CPB and PBS. ''We can't repeat ourselves by creating another starving child expected to run some huge national undertaking.''

Yee strongly believes CPB and PBS have not yet fulfilled the original mission of public broadcasting. ''As [CPB president] Robert Conrood has said himself, this represents that very opportunity. We must make sure our report strongly ensures the voice of minority communities like ITVS and the minority consortia. We cannot let the airwaves be homogenized.''

Lloyd feels the Commission's work so far hasn't lived up to its potential. ''Television is one of the most important institutions in terms of protecting and preserving our democracy,'' he says. ''But this discussion--which is supposed to be about the obligation of all broadcasters, public and commercial, to serve their local communities--hasn't really happened.''

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