In a recent article for Current, Steve Behrens contextualizes an excerpt from Ralph Engelman’s new book, Friendlyvision: Fred Friendly & the Rise and Fall of Television Journalism. Here we see Fred Friendly at his most inspired, having just resigned from CBS and tilting at the windmills of commercial television. Engelman explains how Friendly came to partner with McGeorge Bundy at the Ford Foundation on a proposal for a non-commercial “fourth network” to be funded in perpetuity with revenues realized from the cost savings of satellite communications. It is also worth noting that a competing plan from the Carnegie Commission on Educational Television also extolled the virtues of perpetual funding in the form of an exise tax on the sale of televisions; the very model that launched the BBC (which has now been replaced by an annual household license fee). The government rejected both funding proposals in favor of keeping a nascent PBS on a leash, funding it with an appropriation, for which it would have to come begging each year. Structurally speaking, the Carnegie plan won the day, as the government preferred its model of a non-centralized, and essentially non-competitive, non-commercial broadcasting system that was to be built cheaply on the disjointed skeleton of National Educational Television (NET). And for good measure, the government placed this new system under the control of a government-appointed board at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), assuring that PBS would forever lack sufficient independence to control, let alone change, its own destiny.
To read the full excerpt from Ralph Engelman’s book, Friendlyvision: Fred Friendly & the Rise and Fall of Television Journalism at Current.org, click here.