Idaho public television facing embarrassing censorship battle
Commentary by JACK VALKENBURGH
I don't know state Sen. Hal Bunderson of Meridian.
But I really don't believe the suggestion in his June 24 column in the Idaho
Statesman "IPTV needs Ed Board's oversight"that there are people
who want the Idaho public television "station manager [to be] allowed to be a programming
" (my emphasis).
Such ridiculous statements are exactly what the senator himself criticized
in his column's prior paragraph when he said that "attempts to inflame public opinion
in support of a particular point of view... [do] little to encourage intelligent and
The truth is that we opponents of political meddling in public television
programming simply do not want programs censored that have met principles and standards
that were painstakingly adopted and have been used for nearly three decades.
These standards, known as the "Public Broadcasting Service (PBS)
Adopted Program Policies" are not only the policy of Idaho Public Television (IPTV),
but also, my research indicates, of all, or nearly all, 350 public broadcasting stations
operating in all 50 states.
The PBS principles speak to editorial integrity, program quality, program
diversity and local station autonomy. Editorial standards speak to fairness, accuracy,
objectivity, balance, courage and controversy, exploration of significant topics and a
number of other important issues.
The interest in limiting controversial IPTV programming flies in the race
of current program policies that state "the surest road to intellectual stagnation
and social isolation is to stifle the expression of uncommon ideas..."
Amen to that!
Senator Bunderson says he simply wants education board oversight of IPTV.
But the board already has that oversight. The board is IPTV's parent agency. Anytime the
general manager acts outside the programming standards he can be fired.
The truth is, this whole fuss is because many legislators couldn't abide
Idaho Public Television broadcasting "It's Elementary" and "Our
House," two programs that depict the humanity of lesbians and gay men. Both shows met
PBS and IPTV standards and were aired widely across the nation.
The problem? Apparently, some Idaho legislators can't accept tax-supported
programs that depict gay people as worthy individuals.
So now the State Board of Education is grappling with two proposals to
"implement" the legislative intent language that accompanied the state's latest
From a free speech perspective, both proposals are ghastly.
One proposal creates an IPTV "Citizens Programming Advisory
Board" that isn't even honestly named, for it is not "advisory." Rather,
the proposal empowers this "advisory" board to censor any program that comes
before it, apparently by majority vote.
And what will be the qualifications of the advisory board members? Who
knowsthe proposal only states that one member will come from each of six geographic
regions. The proposal makes no mention of the need to commit to, or even agree with, the
principles and standards that make public television what it is.
The other proposal would rewrite the governing policies and procedures of
IPTV, insisting throughout that the general manager is to assure "compliance"
with the intent of the Idaho legislature.
But how can the general manager know that he is complying? Only one way
seems safecensor any program that treats gays with respect, no matter how well the
program satisfies public broadcasting standards.
The proposal to rewrite IPTV's governing policies and procedures also
mandates the airing of disclaimers (called "Viewer Discretion and Advisory
Statements") that say, in essence, "what you see is not meant to promote illegal
How embarrassing! But while silly and unnecessary, the disclaimer
requirement may be the least offensive of all the proposals from a free speech
So now, as Idaho struggles to build a positive image, we embarrass
ourselves by becoming the first state whose legislature reacts to gay-themed programs by
overriding standards for public broadcasting that have been in effect across the nation
In the coming weeks, we will be lucky if we escape national media
attention and ridicule.
Worse, we may have brought it on ourselves.
You can helpcall the State Board of Education and tell them
"dont mess with IPTV programming standards!"
Jack Valkenburgh is an attorney and executive
director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Idaho