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'People Power' Hailed As Boon To Public Tv

March 08, 1986|CLARKE TAYLOR

NEW YORK — If American TV watchers apply the "people power" they have witnessed in recent weeks in the Philippines to their own desires as viewers, public television could be the beneficiary, a leading public television executive said here this week.

"A revolution in (American) television is under way too, and 'people power' just may come our way," John Jay Iselin said in an address at the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences on Wednesday, his 15th anniversary as president of New York's WNET.

"TV's recent coverage of the revolution in the Philippines has proved the power and influence of television, but just as television has helped create a global village, we have some justification in fearing that we are well on the way to creating a global village of idiots," said Iselin, who was unusually critical of commercial TV programming.

"We have sacrificed a generation of TV children to what the medium can do badly, and viewers just might start to assert their right to good television," he continued.

Iselin noted recent reports of a decrease in commercial TV viewing at a time when public TV stations report record audience ratings and when videocassette recorder sales are at a record high. He cited such shifts in TV viewing habits as evidence that "a consumer revolt against mass-market, junk-food TV is under way, and may lead to a revolution."

"We (in public television) need to take advantage of this opportunity, by positioning ourselves in an open, competitive marketplace, without depending on public dollars," he said.

"We already have established a track record, and built a literate, distinctive, serious-minded public following," he said, noting the need for "good business management" on the part of public television stations, as well as alternative sources of funding.

"It may be that commercial television is on the demise and that public television is on its way to becoming a mainstream presence," Iselin said.

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