Congressman Cautions CPB Against Bias: Rep. Brad Sherman Reminds Corporation for Public Broadcasting of Objectivity and Balance Obligation

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CAMERA recently applauded the actions of Congressman Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), who cautioned the Corporation for Public Broadcasting against redefining the existing "objectivity and balance" statute "in a way that would allow for the support of bias in programming."

in a way that would allow for the support of biased programming.

Congressman Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) has cautioned the Corporation for Public Broadcasting against redefining the existing "objectivity and balance" statute "in a way that would allow for the support of biased programming." CAMERA (Committee for Accuracy in Middel East Reporting in America) has applauded his actions and posted his letter on its Web site.

In a letter to CPB Chair Chris Boskin, Rep. Sherman noted that the corporation's own inspector-general reported three years ago that the agency "had not yet begun to meet its statutory obligation for periodic reviews of its national programming." Then the I-G recommended, among other things, that CPB upgrade its oversight of recipients to assure their compliance with a legal requirement of "strict adherence to objectivity and balance" in programs on controversial subjects. Recipients of CPB funds include National Public Radio and the Public Broadcasting Service.

Congress tasked the corporation with objectivity and balance oversight at its founding with passage of the 1967 Public Broadcasting Act. The language was reemphasized in the 1992 Telecommunications Act, but CPB never has fulfilled this responsibility.

Rep. Sherman noted that CPB's "Project Champion" effort to meet the I-G's recommendations has involved "consulting with public broadcasting journalists and journalism professors. While I applaud this commitment .... I am concerned that much of the feedback you are hearing alleges that objectivity and balance are either too difficult to define, outmoded concepts, or both. I am concerned that you are being advised that 'fairness over time,' as defined by a dialogue of diverse voices, would meet the Congressionally-imposed requirement of 'strict adherence to objectivity and balance in all programs or series of programs of a controversial nature.'"

"CAMERA applauds Rep. Sherman for his continuing focus on this issue, which relates directly to the integrity of taxpayer-supported news and public affairs reporting," said Eric Rozenman, Washington director of the Boston-based Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America. "As the congressman noted in his October 8 letter to Ms. Boskin, he addressed the CPB board on this very matter four years ago. He noted then that when measuring balance, 'it is not the ethnicity of the speakers that should be used, but rather their points of view, in particular the content of what they say that should be the metric.' "

"That parallels CAMERA's concern about the direction of 'Project Champion' up to now when it comes to objectivity and balance," Rozenman said. "If an individual report or program violates the objectivity and balance standard, or a series of them do, a later program on the same subject that complies with the standard doesn't somehow transform the overall programming into coverage that's objective, accurate, balanced or fair to the issue being covered, no matter how diverse the sources. 'Fairness over time' almost by definition invites unfairness in specific instances time after time."

Rep. Sherman wrote CPB Chair Boskin that he first raised the objectivity and balance issue because, "like many of my constituents, I was concerned ... with a chronic imbalance in Middle East reporting that amounted to an anti-Israel bias in National Public Radio's coverage of the region." Now, as the corporation attempts to satisfy its I-G's recommendation, the congressman especially urged it "to ensure that coverage of the Middle East meets the legislative mandate for balance and objectivity."

CAMERA President and National Director Andrea Levin said that Rep. Sherman's letter "reinforces the point raised in August by Rep. Eric Cantor [R-Va.], who called on CPB to create an internal unit for monitoring objectivity and balance compliance. Both these members of Congress are reminding CPB that oversight is a legal requirement, not a suggestion, one that belongs to the corporation itself and can't be sub-contracted, and cannot be redefined by an administrative agency. The standard is objectivity and balance, that is, journalistic accuracy, not focus group consensus."

A six-term congressman from suburban Los Angeles, Rep. Sherman is chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee's subcommittee on International Terrorism, Nonproliferation and Trade. He also is a member of the House Financial Services and Judiciary committees.

CAMERA, a non-profit, educational organization, has approximately 55,000 members in the United States and 12 other countries. It works for accurate, balanced and complete news media coverage of Israel and the rest of the Middle East. It promotes journalistic accountability and takes no political position on agreed, negotiated solutions to the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Rep. Sherman's letter to CPB will be posted at http://www.camera.org.

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Isabel Smith
CAMERA
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Eric Rosenman
CAMERA
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