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Study Disputes Claim of Public TV's Liberal Bias : Media: Republican sources outnumber Democrats on PBS shows, the new report finds.

August 23, 1993|SHARON BERNSTEIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A report contradicting conservative claims that public television has a liberal bias is being released today by the liberal media watchdog group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR).

The study, paid for by a grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur foundation and conducted by academics who were not working directly for FAIR, concludes that in public affairs programs, more Republicans are interviewed on PBS programs than Democrats, and that government officials and professionals far outweigh sources from labor, citizen activist or gay and lesbian organizations.

The authors of the study, David Croteau, William Hoynes and Kevin Carragee, looked at six weeks' worth of evening programming, randomly selected from each of the first six months of 1992, on 15 public-television stations. While a well-publicized conservative study of public broadcasting, conducted by Robert and Linda Lichter and distributed by the Center for Media and Public Affairs, examined the public network's public affairs documentaries, the FAIR study covered all programs that were on between 6 p.m. and midnight.

"This is the broadest study that's ever been done," said Jeff Cohen, president of FAIR. "It's an absolute rebuttal of the conservative senators who picked and chose the few documentaries that offended them and thought they were describing a whole television network."

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday October 7, 1993 Home Edition Calendar Part F Page 3 Column 3 Entertainment Desk 2 inches; 45 words Type of Material: Correction
Group description-- A Calendar article on Aug. 23 inappropriately used the word conservative to describe a study about public broadcasting by the Center for Media and Public Affairs. A spokesman for the organization says it is "purely a research organization with no formal or informal political affiliations."

According to the report, public affairs programming made up 33.2% of public television's evening fare, and entertainment shows made up 58.6%.

Local programs on the 15 stations made up 7.3% of evening air time, with 5.2% going to local news and public affairs. At KCET Channel 28 in Los Angeles, local programs made up just 6.8% of the lineup.

The study showed, Cohen said, that public television is similar to commercial television in terms of the sources who are interviewed on public affairs programs. And he added that, like commercial television, public television neglects the voices of ethnic minorities, women and citizen activists.

Labor, for example, accounted for 0.9% of sources on public affairs programs, racial and ethnic group representatives made up 1.6%, environmentalists 0.6%, and feminists 0.2%. Gay and lesbian organizations were not represented at all as news sources during the sample weeks, and men outnumbered women by a 3-1 ratio.

PBS spokesman Rob Deigh said he had not seen the study and could not comment about it. However, he disputed the notion that public television is not representative.

"Both in front of the camera and behind the camera, public television includes all Americans, and we're constantly working to be more inclusive," Deigh said. "Nobody does it better."

Conservatives have contended that it's not appropriate to study the program lineup as a whole, claiming that documentaries are more dramatic and influential than talk and news shows, and therefore should be studied separately.

Last year, led by Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.), conservatives held up a funding bill for public radio and television until public broadcasting officials agreed to hold hearings on whether the system was biased.

In particular, Dole and others complained about the documentary series "Frontline," as well as "Listening to America," an election-year series produced by journalist and former-President Lyndon B. Johnson aide Bill Moyers.

But according to the FAIR study, even those two series relied more heavily on Republican than Democratic sources.

Republicans outnumbered Democrats on "Frontline" by 53% to 47%, and on "Listening to America," by 64% to 36%, the study said. Overall, Republicans outnumbered Democrats by 55% to 45%.

However, the study's authors noted their research was conducted during an election year, when the incumbent President was a Republican.

Still, according to Cohen, the study provides a new vantage point from which to view the question of bias in public television.

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