This attack on public, as opposed to commercial, media has been particular prevalent in the South:
• Alabama, Mississippi, South Carolina and Virginia cut approximately 40 percent of their state public broadcasting budgets.
• Georgia, Louisiana and North Carolina cut approximately 20 percent.
• South Carolina represents a victory of sorts for supporters of public TV. Republican Gov. Nikki Haley proposed eliminating the entire appropriation only to face a GOP Legislature-led “open rebellion” that saved South Carolina Educational TV but reduced its budget significantly.
• Florida Republican Gov. Rick Scott’s efforts to eliminate state support for public TV also were blocked by that state’s Republican-dominated Legislature, so he vetoed the measure that preserved some funding and continued his quest to kill the appropriation altogether.
Some policymakers argue that full funding for public media in these recessionary times is a luxury a state can’t afford, and there is some truth to that.
However, recent events concerning Alabama Public Television suggest there is an agenda controversy that is also contributing to what has taken place.
Last week, members of the Alabama Educational Television Commission (most of whom were appointed by Republican governors Bob Riley and Robert Bentley) fired APTV director Allan Pizzato and deputy director Pauline Howland.
There was no clear reason given for their dismissals. Pizzato said there was an “irreconcilable difference in opinion of the future direction of the station.” Howland, however, said she was “baffled” by what happened.
Sources within the APTV family believe the two were terminated because they opposed the showing of the American Heritage Series, which was produced by the evangelical group WallBuilders. The series promotes the “Christian nation” interpretation of American history. Pizzato reportedly had “grave concerns” that the religious message in the programs might violate the station’s broadcast license.
The commissioners were supposed to discuss this at their meeting. Instead, they fired Pizzato and Howland.
Now that the impediments have been removed, will the commission go ahead with the showing of the controversial series? And how does the subsequent resignation of three of the five members of the Alabama Educational Television Foundation Authority, the group that raises money for APTV, figure into what has taken place?
Clearly, there is trouble at APTV. The public deserves answers.