2019 Mid-Year Report to the Board

Jun 27, 2019

The biggest takeaway from the first six months of 2019 is that listeners and viewers are more regularly complaining about perceived liberal bias in public broadcasting programming.

While this is not a new complaint in the public-media realm, as the 2020 campaign season fires up, several listeners and viewers are saying they don’t see enough “pro-Trump commentators” on public radio and television news programs.

Some 34 of the 68 emails I received since January registered concerns about bias. Eleven of these particularly targeted PBS NewsHour; four others complained about PBS in general or a documentary; four more targeted CPB and two cited NPR. Thirteen entailed complaints from one person who objected to a local New York public affairs program. For the most part, those who wrote did not cite specific instances of bias but expressed their general opinion that they felt the news coverage they consumed on public broadcasting programs was slanted.

Said one writer: “The CPB regularly supports and presents myopic (one-sided) programming.” The indications that liberal and conservative viewers and listeners are experiencing the same news coverage differently suggests that the words journalists employ and the framing of topics are possible culprits  – a topic for more exploration.

Through June, I will have filed 16 Ombudsman Reports since January, continuing a pace of a little more than two a month. I am pursuing some additional threads from the mailbag.

Three emails complained about an episode of the PBS KIDS show “Arthur,” objecting to its inclusion of a gay marriage. I filed a column on the subject that prompted one person to write, “Great column. Will share widely.”

One writer circled back to applaud my report about the dispute between OETA (Oklahoma Educational Television Authority) and the OETA Foundation. “Excellent article,” he wrote.

I continue to focus on the future of public media in my reports, with several columns focusing on such subjects as:

Subscriptions to the ombudsman newsletter have increased some 40%, over the past year, albeit from a small base -- from 242 on June 8, 2018, to 342 on June 7, 2019. In part, I am taking the extra step of emailing links to the columns both to those who have written to the ombudsman and to those I have interviewed for a report. I tweet out all columns, and @janjlab followers have increased about 3 percent.

You can subscribe to CPB Ombudsman Reports at https://www.cpb.org/subscribe. Read more CPB Ombudsman Reports here.