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Funds For Soviet Trade Mission Nixed : Trip Issue Enlivens Pbs Convention

May 17, 1985|MORGAN GENDEL | Times Staff Writer

SAN FRANCISCO — Emotions were still running high Thursday as the Public Broadcasting Service opened its annual membership meeting here in the wake of a controversial decision by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to withdraw support for a proposed trade mission to the Soviet Union.

The corporation's decision Wednesday not to help underwrite a trip by PBS representatives to meet with Soviet producers in September was attributed by one PBS official, who requested anonymity, to "weird paranoia."

Corporation Chairman Sonia Landau, here to attend the PBS meeting, defended the board's action, saying that CPB, as a custodian of governmental funds, "really should not be in the position of dealing with government-controlled TV. We have a State Department. They're supposed to do that."

Comments from the board's public debate, however, suggested that some members feared that PBS representatives "might be duped into buying Soviet propaganda," as one observer put it.

It was Landau, appointed to the corporation board by President Reagan, who made the motion Wednesday to withdraw the organization's support for the trip. With the vote following political lines, the motion passed 6-4.

The issue enlivened the opening of the PBS convention, which normally is a low-key affair where the most stimulating occurrence typically is the announcement of a new funding source.

Several representatives scheduled to make the Moscow trip--including CPB board member Sharon P. Rockefeller and William Kobin, president of KCET Channel 28 in Los Angeles--said they might still make the trip.

The trip is scheduled for Sept. 27-Oct. 5, to coincide with a meeting of Eastern European broadcasters. As with previous such trade missions, including one to China last October, the PBS representatives plan to discuss the possibility both of buying and selling programming.

The trip already has been approved by the U.S. government, according to Eleanor Miller, CPB's acting director of corporate communications.

The people making the trip on behalf of the non-commercial TV system were to have paid their own way or sought grants to cover expenses, which Kobin said he will do if he goes.

The Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the agency that distributes federal funds to the nation's non-commercial radio and TV stations, has helped to fund similar trade missions in the past. Its funding goes primarily toward arranging the trip, sending a staff member with the contingent and paying for hotel space at which PBS programming can be shown.

Withdrawal of CPB support was seen more as a political setback than an economic one. PBS officials fear the opening of old wounds dating back to the Nixon Administration, when the political appointees of the board were at odds with the station and network leaders over the operation and programming of the public television system.

"The board of CPB should not be a partisan or political group," Rockefeller said, echoing the sentiments of station representatives queried. The Soviet trade mission decision is "not a good symptom," she said.

Rockefeller, a Democrat who was chairman of the corporation board until Landau beat her in an election last year, said that she "couldn't disagree more with Landau" on the appropriateness of the Moscow trip.

"It's CPB's responsibility as a facilitator and developer of public broadcasting, through its international activities department, to encourage sales abroad," she said.

An irony to the vote, Rockefeller noted, is that the current CPB administration is "heavily promoting new sources of revenue" to make up for budget cuts under the Reagan Administration. She contended that the sale of American TV to the Soviets remains one such potential source and said that pursuing it is no different from trade missions undertaken by other American business people to sell microchips or farm equipment.

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