America's Public Television Stations, the lobbying arm of public broadcasters, wants to let companies add "calls to action"-urging viewers to buy products-to their underwriting credits.letting underwriters compare their products to those of rivals.
BIDS TO `BUY' NOW BANNED
Under current Public Broadcasting Service guidelines, underwriters cannot urge viewers to purchase their products or make comparative claims.
The prospect of increased commercialization is raising concern among the industry's biggest supporters on Capitol Hill.
U.S. Rep. Billy Tauzin (R., La.) chairman of the House telecommunications subcommittee, is a key industry ally and possible House sponsor of legislation to fund public broadcasting through the year 2002. But last week, speaking at an APTS event in Washington, he said Congress might shy away from funding public broadcasters if they become overtly commercial.
Rep. Ed Markey (D., Mass.), ranking minority subcommittee member, is another important ally, but he also opposes efforts to make public broadcasting more commercial, said aide David Moulton.
"They will drive away their public support and undermine what makes them special," Mr. Moulton said.
Some watchdog groups also have strong concerns.
"The potential of overcommercialization raises critical policy issues," said Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Media Education.
CREATING NEW OPPONENTS
Andy Schwartzman, president of the Media Access Project, said relaxing the underwriting guidelines would siphon ad revenue from commercial broadcasters, turning them into opponents of the industry.
A PBS*spokesman emphasized that the underwriting proposal has been crafted by APTS-not PBS.
"We don't necessarily have to change our underwriting guidelines just because there's a relaxation," he said.
Last week, a coalition of 120 APTS member stations circulated a letter on Capitol Hill reaffirming their commitment to non-commercial service. But the coalition expressed concern that some public broadcasters are airing 30-second underwriting credits-twice the length of the industry norm.
Longer credits, they said, make it tough for producers to attract national underwriting within the parameters of PBS guidelines.
APTS' underwriting proposal is part of a comprehensive legislative package being pitched on the hill.
Mr. Hatch is a staff reporter with Electronic Media.