PBS hires Washington Post veteran as ombudsman
PBS said Wednesday it has hired the ombudsman of the Washington Post for the same position at the public broadcast institution.
Veteran journalist Michael Getler will seek to ensure that PBS upholds its own standards of journalistic ethics for both online and on-air content. His reports and commentary will be published on http://www.PBS.org. Getler will begin Nov. 15 after his contract with the Post runs out.
Getler will have complete authority to determine what issues are examined and full independence in assessing them. He will report to PBS president and CEO Pat Mitchell.
"National opinion surveys have shown that PBS is America's most trusted public institution and that the majority of the public finds PBS content to be free of bias," Mitchell said. "We want to maintain and strengthen this position by adding another way to ensure that PBS continues to practice the highest standards of journalism."
Public broadcasting has come under closer scrutiny after the former chairman of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), the federal government's major funder for public TV and radio programming, became a lightning rod for criticism when he ordered an auditing of Bill Moyers' program Now for liberal bias.
Ken Tomlinson is under investigation by the CPB inspector general for paying outside groups, some with Republican ties, for making that decision and similar ones without board approval.
While Tomlinson claims the audits were simply a way to ensure that Moyers wasn't biased, some of public broadcasting's critics claimed it was a way to force a right-wing slant into programming.
Tomlinson's choice for CPB president, former Republican National Committee co-chair Patricia Harrison, was ratified by the board this summer.
In September, the CPB board elected Cheryl Halpern to succeed Tomlinson as chairman and elected Gay Hart Gaines as vice chair. Both Halpern and Gaines are veteran Republican Party activists and fundraisers.
Center for Digital Democracy executive director Jeff Chester, a critic of Tomlinson, said he hopes Getler doesn't become a political fig leaf.
"For Mr. Getler to be successful, PBS will have to ensure that he fully understands PBS' mandate -- to produce and air what is not normally done by commercial TV," he said. "PBS will also have to stand up to new CPB board president Cheryl Halpern as she wishes to continue the CPB's effort to force public broadcasting to conform to narrow, conservative viewpoints about the role of the press. PBS shouldn't try and hide behind its new ombudsman."
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