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PBS ombudsman thinks Glaxo sponsorship isn't worth it

Broadcasting & Cable magazine reports:

“The sponsorship of a PBS program on obesity by diet drug maker GlaxoSmithKline has one veteran noncom TV watcher a bit exercised, but PBS says it is by the book.

Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, and a frequent critic of what he sees as the increasingly commercialization of noncommercial broadcasting, has written to PBS ombudsman Michael Getler to complain about what he sees as too lax sponsorship policies.

Glaxo is underwriting the April broadcast of ‘Fat: What No One is Telling You’ …

‘We note that funding comes in part from GlaxoSmithKline,’ Chester wrote Getler. ‘The drug giant just happens to have a recently approved for over-the-counter drug on the market-under the brand name Alli, that is for ‘use by overweight adults along with a reduced calorie, low-fat diet.’ …

PBS program executives need to ‘cut the fat’ out of their sloppy review of what’s appropriate for underwriting,’ said Chester.”

Getler responded on his PBS ombudsman blog: “My view is that Chester’s eagle-eye provides a continuing, very useful challenge to PBS, a challenge that I agree with even though I sympathize with PBS’s constant search for funding, the difficulty of finding sponsorships to bolster more traditional funding, and that fact that some funders simply have an interest in seeing subjects aired and are willing to take their chances on how the program will come out. But in this case, there is little doubt how a program about obesity is going to turn out. Even though GlaxoSmithKline came in late and, under PBS policy, has no say in any of the content, this kind of possible conflict can undermine credibility and, without knowing the financial details, doesn’t seem worth it. “

(GS note: Thanks to one of my blog readers for tipping me off to this controversy.)

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