“People With Power Have Power”

May 23 2013 @ 4:44pm

Jane Mayer narrates the struggle of two documentary filmmakers to produce their documentary Citizen Koch and get it aired on public TV. A sample:

The messages from [Independent Television Service] ITVS officials grew confusing. [Vice-president of programming] Aguilar again praised the film as “great,” and said, “I think you’ve preserved the anger of the film, which I love.” Other officials, though, kept urging the filmmakers to change the title, add negative material about Democrats, and delete an opening sequence that showed Sarah Palin speaking at a rally sponsored by Americans for Prosperity, the Kochs’ main advocacy group. Several times, [filmmakers] Lessin and Deal asked ITVS officials if Koch’s trusteeship at WNET was a factor. During the phone meeting on December 7th, Vossen said, “I can absolutely assure you that ITVS does not want your film to be buried.” She said of the title, “I think you understand why it’s problematic. . . . We live in a world where we have to be aware that people with power have power.”

Alyssa questions the limits of true independence in public broadcasting:

Disputes like this one highlight the extent to which making PBS reliant on private charity calls into question the meaning of “public” television. A state of affairs in which television content is determined by the government is obviously undesirable and subjects programming to a partisan agenda in a way that would serve members of both parties ill by turns, and the public poorly at all times, given how timid the content choices would likely be. But a “public” television regime that’s established to give extremely wealthy people another way to buy programming power other than by purchasing affiliate stations is “public” only in a business sense, rather than serving a broadly-defined public interest.