Written by: Tom Rieland
Date: June 15, 2012

Blogs can be great outlets for frustration and anger.  While I attempt to steer clear of those emotions here, events in Alabama have many of us in the the public media business concerned and upset.  On Tuesday, two of the leaders of Alabama Public Television were dismissed from their jobs by the Alabama Educational Television Commission.  The apparent reason?  A refusal to air a DVD series requested by one of the commissioners featuring David Barton, an evangelical minister. The series is already being aired on Christian broadcast networks.

In a way, the point is not that this request is related to a questionable TV program, but that a request was made by a commissioner for a review of a program (undue influence), that APT leadership reviewed and denied it (as is their job as professionals) and that subsequently the leadership of the state network was fired. At least that is the story as we understand it today.

Programming is the purpose of public broadcasting and the product by which audiences judge its value. We therefore must operate above suspicion of vulnerability to undue influence from any source. Trustees are ultimately responsible for assuring the reality and the perception of credibility of a station’s programming. By its actions, the trustees of Alabama Public Television have certainly failed in their role as protector of the credibility of the organization.  We can only hope the whole story is told soon and that the Commission realizes more transparency is required, not more secrecy.

The dismissals at APT went largely uncovered in Alabama because the same day some 400 newspaper employees, many of them in the newsrooms at The Birmingham News, the Press-Register in Mobile and The Huntsville Times, were laid off as the newspapers go online and stop their daily deliveries.  

The checks and balances on government and organizations like the gubernatorial appointed Alabama Educational Television Commission have been dealt a serious blow with the loss of all the major daily newspapers in the state of Alabama in a single day.

Full disclosure:  I’ve known both executives dismissed at Alabama Public Television, Allen Pizzato and Pauline Howland, for over a decade having worked in public broadcasting in Alabama through the 1990s. They both have stellar records of accomplishment within the public broadcast system and their state.  In fact, Pizzato was named nonprofit CEO of the year by the Birmingham Business Journal just last year.