he carnegie commission on the Future of Public Broadcasting last week issued a 401-page blueprint aimed at ambitious enlargement and improvement of American public television and radio.
The principal goals are improved programming, increased financing and insulation of content from the kinds of political presuures exerted during the Nixon administration. The target date for full implementation is 1985.
Under a complex funding scheme, the Public Broadcasting Service budget would be more than double what it was last year, and the aim would be to bring its quality closer to the level of foreign equivalents like the BBC.
About $200 million of the new funds would come from a presently untapped source -- a controversial so-called "spectrum" fee collected from major users of the airwaves, both institutional and private.
$590 million would come from the federal government; that is to say, more than the entire public broadcasting budget at present. Most observers moted that in these days of pleas for fiscal restraint, such sums would be hard to come by.
The other major set of changes would be organizational. The committee concluded that the existing Corporation for Public Broadcasting would be replaced by a new private, nonprofit Public Telecommunications Trust that would be the "principal leadership,planning and evaluation agency in public broadcasting."
The Public Broadcasting Service, likewise, would be replaced as the programming arm with "a semi-autonomous Program Services Endowment within the Trust with the sole mission of underwriting a broad range of television and radio productions." The federal goverment would match every $3 raised by local stations with $2, and the money would have to go for programming.
Here is a cross section of reactions, based on public statements and telephone interviews with persons in government, commercial television and public broadcasting: Newton Minow
Chairman of the Public Broadcasting Service and former chairman of the Federal Communications Commission: "I like the idea of tying the 'spectrum' fee proposal to the improvement of public television. It's very imaginative. And it means that paying for expansion will be shared by the private and public sectors. Some people will say that's a three-fold increase. But they should remember that we pay practically nothing for public television in this country now. It's 37 cents a person. By comparison Japn pays $4 a person and Great Britain pays $5.
"When we got the money, I'm a great one for using it first for more of what we do best -- full-length live events like the gala for Teng Hsiaoping from the Kennedy Center last Monday, or, say, the full-length Watergate hearing. And with the new satellite in effect, the potential for live transmission will be totally transformed.
"And I hope we can start having more American counterparts of Masterpiece Theater. You know, we're doing 'The Scarlet Letter' in a couple of months and we need much more of that.
"I know they talk in the report about researching for something for adults as bold and popular as 'Sesame Street.' Who knows what from that would take? It's a matter of luck and talent at the same time.
"As for censorship, you know the Corporation for Public Broadcasting was orginally supposed to protect us from the politicians. But instead, in the late-'60s, the problem came for us to protect ourselves from CPB. This Trust arrangement would get us protected.
"I was rather poignantly reminded of how har we've come so fast last summer at a meeting in Dallas. I saw Elizabeth Campbell from Arlington, and we talked about that morning in 1961 when she and I attended the inauguration of WETA in a little schoolroom. Honestly, I'm not the emotional type, but I had tears in my eyes just thinking about it. And in another 17 years, I think we'll be in competition with the commercials. The audience for us just keeps growing."
There are now 280 PBS outlets, reaching 70 to 80 percent of the viewers. President Carter
"The new Carnegie report provides a focal point for continued work by government and -- most important -- by the system itself. The report will help deal with such long-run issues as the opportunities for multi-channel service provided by satellite; the need to increase creative programming from minorities children, the elderly and other groups; the responsibilties that may flow from partial deregulation of commercial broadcasting; and the need to increase resources without excessive dependence on federal spending."
The last sentence, without being explicit, seemed to endorse "spectrum" fee. ABC
"We agree with certain broad proposals, like freedom from government control.... We think that public television should continue to be supplemental to commercial television... and we think (the 'spectrum' tax) to be discriminatory and unfair.
"If, despite these considerations, Congress ultimately imposes a 'spectrum' tax or (something else), it should be an amount sufficient to offset a portion of the Fcc/'s annual operating expense and should not be related to the overall needs of PBS."
In other words, ABC doesn't want to supervise a potential competitor. It is a fairness problem raised by several persons concerned with the legal implications of the proposal.
Spokesmen for both CBS and NBC said that officials of both those networks are still reading the report and declined cmment. William J. McGill
Chairman of the Carnegie Commission and president of Columbia University: "We want to emphasize that we do not consider PBS as a failure. At its most sublime it's a national treasure. The problem is that the sublime moments do not come sufficiently often. Many of them have British accents and we are looking for a way of making the best of public broadcasting." Frank Mankiewicz
Presidnt, National Public Radio: "We are pleased with much of the report, but the funding proposal for NPR would make it difficult for many of our stations to survive. For some reason they propose changing the present system, where much of the money comes to the network and. we feed the materials to our 220 licensees, including two here (WETA and WAMU). The next budget is about $50 million, of which about 40 percent comes here and 60 percent goes to the stations.
"Their way is the way PBS has worked for a long time, with the outlets raising matching money, producing TV programs and feeding the network. But our stations just don't have the moneyraising powers of the PBS stations, and we are beginning to show we have ability to do it here at NPR. We think we are really starting to emerge and it shouldn't be fiddled with. Anyway, it's no crisis now, because there are lots of steps down this road. And in the meantime we must show that NPR and PBS have fundamentally different problems." Fred Friendly
Television adviser, the Ford Foundation: "I think the report is a very good job. The problem of politicization of stations is well handled. But the big question in my mind is, how do you get it enacted? It is written with a lot of comity, which makes it easier to take by some politicians.
"Most important, it is a watershed of TV and the political bill of rights and, more importantly, the financial bill of rights. You can't have one without the other." Sen. Ernest F. Hollings
Democrat, South Carolina, Chairman, Senate Communications Subcommittee: "With respect to the structural changes being recommended, there will be adequate time to evaluate them, since new authorization will not be needed in the next two years." There was no mention of the "spectrum" fee, which has gotten more attention in the House. Rep. Lionel Van Deerlin
Democrat, California, Chairman, House Subcommittee on Communications: "We know that the first Carnegie Commission report in 1967 set the stage for much of this. It suggested a financing plan which no popularly elected body would accept, a tax on home receivers. Now, the new proposal has gone along with a new proposal that has been offered in the House, which is that all commercial users of frequency space should help carry the load.
"The commercial networks are not going to like it. But remembr that commercial broadcasting has managed to build a $10-billion revenue industry off the public's airwaves -- space on the airwaves for which they pay not a dime."
In addition to the commercial networds, among the possible sources of "Spectrum" tax revenue are land mobile radio operators, microwave links and -- if the citizenry does not rise up in revolt -- CB radios.