ITVS Responds to The New Yorker article on Park Avenue and Citizen Koch

Posted on May 28, 2013

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In the past week, The New Yorker published an article drawing a connection between corporate influence and freedom of expression that has generated a flurry of press coverage. ITVS appreciates the scrutiny of the important issue of corporate influence on public broadcasting, and indeed on media in general. As a majority-publicly-funded institution, a rarity even within public broadcasting, ITVS has long been proud of our ability to act independently of corporate and government influence. Our history of providing top-flight journalism among the rich mix of films we help bring to public broadcasting often puts us in the position of taking on powerful stakeholders. 

Viewers depend on ITVS-funded filmmakers for the high-quality independent documentaries that appear on our signature TV series Independent Lens and on other PBS series including POV, Frontline, and American Masters. We treasure our relationship with our viewers, with public broadcasting, and our many other community and NGO partners. Above all, we hold dear our relationships with independent producers and deeply respect the courage and tenacity it takes to tell authentic, compelling stories that inform and connect citizens in a noisy 21st century media space. 

As a matter of policy, ITVS respects the privacy of filmmakers and our negotiations. We therefore declined an interview request from The New Yorker staff writer Jane Mayer for a May 20, 2013 article she was framing around two documentaries with storylines on David H. Koch. In the days after its publication, we continued to decline interview requests from other outlets. ITVS now believes the rising flow of misinformation surrounding Park Avenue: Money, Power and the American Dream and Citizen Koch requires public exposure of the facts. We believe these facts demonstrate our commitment to the creative vision of filmmakers, independent journalistic documentaries, and diverse perspectives on issues that are critical for our American democracy and culture. Here are the facts:

  • ITVS not only supports but also seeks out and funds hard-hitting journalistic documentaries on timely and important issues. ITVS funded and shepherded to Independent Lens in the current season alone award-winning films such as Park Avenue, The House I Live In, The Invisible War, and As Goes Janesville. The quality of Independent Lens programs is reflected in 10 Peabody awards and seven Emmys for the series, which is co-curated with PBS.
  • ITVS funded Alex Gibney’s film Park Avenue, and Independent Lens senior series producer Lois Vossen worked closely with him, per standard protocol, to meet PBS editorial standards and have the film broadcast on PBS.
  • In April 2012, ITVS sent filmmakers Tia Lessin and Carl Deal a standard letter inviting them to begin negotiations for production license funding from ITVS based on their written proposal. Communications between the filmmakers and ITVS continued until April 2013, well beyond the Park Avenue broadcast on November 12, 2012.
  • ITVS initially recommended the film Citizen Corp for production licensing based on a written proposal. Early cuts of the film, including the Sundance version, did not reflect the proposal, however, and ITVS eventually withdrew its offer of a production agreement to acquire public television exhibition rights. The film was neither contracted nor funded.
  • ITVS has worked with thousands of independent filmmakers since our inception. We are committed to supporting the creative vision of filmmakers and respectfully acknowledge that their creative process will bring forth films that no longer reflect the original proposal on which ITVS based its funding recommendation. Filmmakers sometimes choose a new path during the negotiations of the ITVS production agreement as other financial, distribution, and editorial opportunities arise. In the case of the proposed project Citizen Corp (later retitled Citizen Koch), the filmmakers’ shift in editorial direction from the written proposal during the negotiation window led ITVS to cease negotiations.
  • ITVS works hard to shepherd programs en route to broadcast, but it has no authority over the national or local public television schedule. Neither ITVS nor Independent Lens confirmed a broadcast slot for Citizen Corp.
  • ITVS did not attach its name to Citizen Koch at Sundance Film Festival because a production licensing agreement had not been executed.
  • ITVS did not share a cut of Citizen Koch to PBS or any public television station because the film was never contracted by ITVS. The filmmakers continue to control distribution of their film.

Public broadcasting is a complex set of mostly independently operating entities, including PBS, broadcast stations, and a variety of producing organizations. ITVS is unique in this ecosystem. We hope the important conversation about corporate influence will continue, within not only public broadcasting but also the broader media, and stay grounded in facts and substance.

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