Tuesday, May 23, 2006

The future of public broadcasting rests in technology, the new president of the Public Broadcasting Service said yesterday in her first public speech.

Paula Kerger, a longtime executive at New York’s Educational Broadcasting Corp., stressed to an audience at the National Press Club that the “era of new media” is not a threat to the industry. Innovation, she said, is what will make sure public broadcasting stays relevant.

“The digital revolution cannot be ignored. … And it’s calling on us to reinvent ourselves,” said Ms. Kerger, who took over the post in March from Pat Mitchell, who stepped down in February to become president of the Museum of Television and Radio.

“Instead of worrying or fearing that the digital revolution is going to make us obsolete or marginal … we need to fully realize that the capabilities of digital technology will actually allow us to take our service to a new level,” Ms. Kerger said.

Surrounded by executives from the Association of America’s Public Television Stations, National Public Radio and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Ms. Kerger began her remarks by stressing the unique features of public broadcasting.

“At a time of unprecedented media consolidation, real media localism rests in our hands,” she said. She also cited educational content for children, coverage of the arts and in-depth public affairs programming as some of public broadcasting’s biggest strengths.

Ms. Kerger promoted on-demand viewing technology — such as Podcasts or streaming video on the Web — as the best way to enhance these offerings and expand audiences by conforming to viewers’ schedules. A number of these initiatives are already under way, she noted.

Local public television stations now have the option to expand the local content that is offered on video-on-demand, including “NewsHour With Jim Lehrer,” “Frontline,” “Antiques Roadshow,” “Washington Week” and “Wide Angle,” among other programs.

Ms. Kerger called PBS’ prime-time programming “the backbone of our medium,” but said she hopes to expand the audience “across all these new platforms.”

Other plans at PBS include a digital channel to be introduced this fall, “PBS Kids Go,” aimed at 5- to 8-year-olds. PBS also expects to debut a 24-hour Spanish language public television channel this year.

Ms. Kerger acknowledged that keeping pace in the digital age costs money, noting that the PBS Foundation has raised more than $14 million since it was created last fall. She said she also plans to work with other public broadcasting organizations to lobby Capitol Hill for continued taxpayer funding.

Bias was the first topic raised during a question-and-answer session, as Ms. Kerger was asked to comment on accusations of PBS left-wing bias made by Kenneth Y. Tomlinson, the conservative former chairman of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. He resigned after an investigation of his leadership by the agency’s Inspector General’s office.

“I think that issue has been put to rest,” Ms. Kerger said.

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