September 16, 2009
Ernest Wilson’s remarks during his acceptance as chair of the CPB board of directors in Washington, DC.
Public broadcasting was born in 1967 because the stars were aligned. The private foundations like Carnegie and Ford, the Congress both Republicans and Democrats, educators, local stations, and eventually the president of the United States all agreed on a new mission: to provide high-quality, federally supported, noncommercial content that went beyond educational television to something more innovative and that met the civic, cultural, informational as well as the continuing educational needs of the American people. Over the years, this innovative advance has been hugely successful across the system.
Today in 2009, I want to suggest we are in a similar moment in history. The stars are aligned as perhaps they have never been since 1967 to advance our cause. Then as now, we need to go beyond the present and reimagine, reinvigorate, and expand our inherited vision. For example, we should consider changing our name to better reflect our current reality, our future directions, and our ambitions to become the Corporation for Public Media.
How are the stars aligned at this moment? First, Congress has given us a budgetary increase for the first time in years and congressional leadership is much in favor of public broadcasting. The private foundations, which played such a large role in 1967, are stepping forward dramatically in their approaches to public media. I am happy to report that CPB has held fruitful discussions with the Ford Foundation about a forward-looking national conversation on public media. We have interacted on a regular basis with the Aspen Institute. We are also engaged in conversations with the Knight Foundation about several public media projects, including investing in NPR’s Argo project. These partnerships mark a direction that is very valuable to us and very valuable to the American people.
In addition, the local stations are experimenting in new and exciting ways. The leading institutions, NPR and PBS, have been great partners in our reimagining process. We continue to explore other ideas for pursuing new ideas. The Obama administration appears to be genuinely interested in what we are doing. The private sector is supporting us. The public, when we do polling, says that we are the most trusted institution in the United States of America and certainly the most trusted broadcasters. In other words, we have a situation in which we have no natural predators. It is a 1967 moment.
The greatest challenge we face is not money. The greatest challenge is that we will collectively fail to seize this unique opportunity to become better than we are, so we can better serve the American people. If there is a common thread to the conversations that I have had with our stakeholders, it is their great expectation that the Corporation for Public Broadcasting will work with its colleagues to provide leadership at this very critical 1967 moment. If we can gather around and forge a common vision, then the support from those institutions will be forthcoming.
We need big ideas that clarify the wonderful work that we are doing and point the way toward the future. This requires leadership that is committed at all levels, not only at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, but at every level of the system. I believe we have that commitment. In order to achieve our legislative mandate, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting has identified three core issues: digital, diversity, and dialogue. They constitute our restatement of the 1967 mandate, and we will apply those three criteria to our thinking, our programmatic activities, and our budgetary allocations as we move forward over the next year.
We have a tremendous opportunity to merge our institutional interests across the system into a common interest to better serve the American people. The stars are fully aligned. We can actually achieve our common goals by recommitting ourselves to accept nothing less than full success because the stakes are so high. It is imperative that we pursue and achieve these great and common purposes. For us, there is nothing more noble and grand than to succeed in seizing the tremendous opportunities for public service media in this new digital age and to provide our fellow citizens with the fruits of noncommercial media which they so richly deserve.