Rightists Baulk at US Public Broadcasters' Windfall

12 May 2005

A US conservative advocacy group has expressed reservations about a five-year £150 million (€116.49m; £79.69m) initiative by the Ford Foundation to support the nation's nonprofit media.

The beneficiaries will be thirteen public television, radio and other media organizations.

The aim of the grants is to encourage the creation and distribution of public affairs programming, particularly programs dealing with international affairs.

In line for the biggest handouts are the Public Broadcasting Service and National Public Radio, respectively set to receive $10 million and $7.5m. Little more than petty cash by the standards of their commercial brethren - but sufficient to raise rightist hackles.

Snarls Tim Graham, director of media analysis at conservative watchdog group Media Research Center: "No doubt this will be seen by conservatives as an ideological initiative. It seems to be taking public broadcasting and tilting it away from the viewpoint of a lot of taxpayers."

Graham argues that the Foundation's grants for global issues are not just aimed at fighting poverty; the solutions advanced are left wing, while the money for media organizations goes to liberal-leaning entities like Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting.

Ford Foundation president Susan V Berresford sees it differently, insisting that the Foundation guards against factual inaccuracy and blatant unfairness in everything it supports. "The media in general is at a crossroads in our country," she says .

In defense of the grants she points to declining newspaper circulations, a fall-off in media coverage of international affairs over the last decade, and relentless market pressures for ratings successes that erode news-gathering budgets.

The Ford Foundation, founded in 1936 by gifts and bequests by Henry and Edsel Ford, is an independent organization, with its own board. It is entirely separate from the Ford Motor Company - a fortunate dichotomy given the latter's current financial woes.

According to the Foundation's website, its stated goals are to strengthen democratic values, reduce poverty and injustice, promote international cooperation and advance human achievement.

All in accord with all US political principles it might be thought.

Data sourced from New York Times; additional content by WARC staff