***For Immediate Release*** September 12, 2005

Contact: Chris Cooper, GRACE Public Relations Director’
 ccooper@gracelinks.org; 212-726-9161

Thousands Demand Public TV Reject Big Ag Propaganda
Viewers Ask Why Monsanto Was Exempted from Funding Guidelines

[New York, NY] – GRACE (Global Resource Action Center for the Environment) last week delivered a letter and petition on behalf of thousands of public television viewers demanding why the Monsanto-funded series America’s Heartland will be distributed by American Public Television (APT) in clear violation of the company’s funding guidelines. The 20-week series, touted as a “celebration of our nation’s agriculture,” was funded in large part by the biotech company Monsanto and the American Farm Bureau Federation, advocates of an industrial-style of farming that many accuse of bankrupting traditional family farmers and devastating America’s rural communities.

“If public TV is no different from corporate-sponsored television, then why should it get taxpayer support?” asked GRACE President Alice Slater. “Rigid funding guidelines are designed to protect public television’s reputation as the last unbiased source of independent programming. But public TV will be unable to serve the public interest if corporate agriculture can so easily buy its way around the funding rules.”

In a letter to APT President and CEO Cynthia Fenneman (see below), Slater outlined how allowing Monsanto and Farm Bureau to be the major funders of a series about the very products and services they sell violates all three tests that APT says that it uses to determine the acceptability of national program funding:

The Editorial Control Test (Has the underwriter exercised editorial control? Could it?); the Perception Test (Might the public perceive that the underwriter has exercised editorial control?); and the Commercialism Test (Might the public conclude the program is on public television principally because it promotes the underwriter’s products, services or other business interests?)

“This is not Mobile Oil funding Masterpiece Theatre,” noted Slater. “This is the largest agricultural biotechnology company in the world funding a program that ‘celebrates’ modern agriculture in a way that diverts critical attention from the controversy surrounding large-scale, industrialized farming. It’s hard to think of clearer link between a program’s content and funder’s product than Monsanto’s funding of America’s Heartland. Any reasonable viewer would find the relationship suspect,” she said.

Along with the letter, Slater delivered a statement signed by nearly 2,000 public television viewers admonishing APT for allowing the funding relationship. It reads, in part:

“We support public television as an independent source of accurate and balanced information. We are concerned that the integrity of public television is being eroded by corporate interests with an agenda of their own.”

One petitioner from Oregon wrote: “Some people who see corporate sponsors or programs aired on public television automatically believe they are environmentally friendly or good for the American people. Obviously big business has their agenda and it should not be part of the public broadcasting system.”

Another viewer from Alabama wrote: “There are very few, untainted, propaganda-free sources available in the public domain. Public TV must constantly be on guard against the purveyance of corporate agribusiness disguised as public service programming or announcements.”

According to Slater, APT has an obligation to explain why it exempted America’s Heartland from meeting the stringent guidelines set to ensure the perception and reality of public television’s independence.

“Taxpayers deserve to know why APT looked the other way,” said Slater.

On September 14th, Slater will join Dr. Doug Gurian-Sherman, Senior Scientist at the Center for Food Safety and Dr. Michael Hansen, Senior Scientist at Consumers Union for a press conference to discuss the nationwide campaign to expose the greenwashing of corporate agriculture. The press conference will be held at Blue Stockings Bookstore in New York City (172 Allen Street) at 5:00pm just prior to the New York premiere of The Future of Food, a new documentary film by Deborah Koons Garcia that explores the complex web of political and market forces behind the multinational corporations seeking to control the world’s food system.

For more information contact:

Chris Cooper, Public Relations Director
GRACE (Global Resource Action Center for the Environment)
 ccooper@gracelinks.org; 212-726-9161

--
The full text of GRACE’s letter to APT President and CEO Cynthia Fenneman:

Cynthia Fenneman
President & CEO
American Public Television
55 Summer Street
Boston, MA 02110

Dear Ms. Fenneman:

Last month, GRACE sent letters to every public television station manager on behalf of a coalition of more than 70 organizations concerned about the series America’s Heartland, currently distributed by American Public Television (APT).

While we appreciate that public television in the United States is composed of free and independent noncommercial broadcasters, we take seriously APT’s stated commitment to “always hold the producer fully accountable for the program” and “not allow editorial control to be exercised by anyone else, including program funders,” as set forth in your National Program Funding Guidelines at www.aptonline.org/aptweb.nsf/vProducers/Index-Guidelines. Specifically, we are concerned that the funding arrangement for America’s Heartland, a series that purports to “celebrate our nation’s agriculture,” clearly violates all three tests APT uses for determining the acceptability of national program funding.

Editorial Control Test
Has the underwriter exercised editorial control? Could it?

We understand that major funding for America’s Heartland comes from the agricultural biotechnology company Monsanto and the American Farm Bureau Federation (Farm Bureau). Historically, Monsanto and Farm Bureau have been in lock-step support of policies that are detrimental to America’s family farms. Both support techniques of large-scale, industrialized farming. Both have opposed EPA regulations on the use of pesticides. Both have opposed mandatory country of origin labeling for imported foods. Both have supported the wide-spread use of genetically modified crops. Their association now with a program that strives to “celebrate” the state of rural agriculture obscures their history of supporting policies that have created a crisis for many of our country’s traditional family farmers.

As well, the Series Proposal for America’s Heartland indicates that one of the main Program Consultants is Bob Vice, former president of the California Farm Bureau and a member of the six-member executive committee of the American Farm Bureau Federation. That the program’s main consultant, with direct influence over content development and direction, has such an immediate and profound relationship with the program’s major funder raises serious concerns that the content of America’s Heartland will reflect the limited perspective shared by its major funders.

Perception Test
Might the public perceive that the underwriter has exercised editorial control?

We share APT’s concern that, should a significant number of reasonable viewers conclude that public television has sold its independence to its program funders, then the entire program service of public television will be suspect and the goal of serving the public will be unachievable.

According to APT’s own guidelines, the perception test “will be applied most vigorously to current affairs programs and programs that address controversial issues. In these cases, when there exists a clear and direct connection between the products, services or other interests of a proposed funder and the subject matter of the program, the proposed funding will be deemed unacceptable regardless of the funder’s actual compliance with the editorial control provisions” of APT’s national program funding policy.

From mad cow disease to genetically modified crops to the health and environmental implications of vast manure lagoons, there are few issues as current or controversial as industrial agriculture. If the letters sent earlier from our coalition do not attest to the fact that a significant number of reasonable viewers perceive a clear, direct and suspicious connection between the products, services and interests of Monsanto and Farm Bureau and the subject matter of America’s Heartland, we hope you agree that the enclosed petition, signed by nearly 2,000 public television viewers, surely does.

Commercialism Test
Might the public conclude the program is on public television principally because it promotes the underwriter’s products, services or other business interests?

We share APT’s concern about the damage to public television’s reputation that could result from a funding arrangement that is so self-serving or self-congratulatory that a reasonable public could conclude that the program is being broadcast solely or principally because it promotes the funder’s products, services or other business interests.

The products and services of Farm Bureau and Monsanto have devastated family farmers in many rural communities. Each week, America loses over 200 family farmers as more and more of our nation’s agricultural production is concentrated into the hands of a diminishing number of large, industrialized facilities. In 2002, over 60 percent of America’s agriculture was controlled by less than 3 percent of its farmers.

We are concerned that a series designed to “celebrate” the state of agriculture in America, and whose funders share a monolithic perspective on the benefits of industrial farming techniques, will not tell the full story of rural depopulation, dwindling economic opportunities, and increased levels of pollution that industrial agriculture has wrought on our nation’s rural communities. America’s Heartland could be perceived as promoting the products, services and business interests of its major funders by presenting only a positive perspective on farming and diverting critical attention from the controversies surrounding many of the industrial farming techniques and agricultural policies supported by Monsanto and Farm Bureau.

We are curious how APT can justify distributing America’s Heartland when its production seems so clearly to violate APT’s own underwriting guidelines. Please explain why you have exempted KVIE from APT’s strong commitment to hold producers accountable for meeting the stringent guidelines set forth to ensure both the perceived and actual objectivity of content for public airwaves.

We look forward to your prompt response.

Sincerely,

Alice Slater
President
GRACE (Global Resource Action Center for the Environment)
--
The full petition statement signed by 1,948 public television viewers:
Dear American Public Television:
We support public television as an independent source of accurate and balanced information. We are concerned that the integrity of public television is being eroded by corporate interests with an agenda of their own.
We are concerned that the program America’s Heartland - funded in part by the Monsanto Company, the American Farm Bureau Federation, the American Soybean Association, National Corn Growers Association, National Cotton Council, United Soybean Board and U.S. Grains Council, is less likely to be a celebration of America’s agricultural heritage than a medium for promoting industrial agricultural practices that are threatening that heritage.
The full story of the America’s agricultural heartland is one of rural depopulation, dwindling economic opportunities, industrial levels of pollution and the ugly reality of the excesses that come from the unregulated large-scale industrialized agricultural system promoted by corporate America. We fear that America’s Heartland is being produced to put a friendly face on the very forces that are causing these problems.
Please make a fully informed decision about America’s Heartland before you decide to air it. If you elect to show it, we ask that you schedule it alongside a program presenting a broader point of view as you would for any other piece of propaganda. There is another side to this story and public television has an obligation to present it.
--
Select statements from public television viewers:

“In keeping with its mission to present alternative viewpoints, public television should showcase the potential or organic/sustainable agriculture to heal the land, clean our rivers, and improve health. Corporate farming already controls the commercial media, but public television is there to represent the public interest.”

Carole Simmons – Fairfield, IA

“There are very few, untainted, propaganda-free sources available in the public domain. Public TV must constantly be on guard against the purveyors of corporate agribusiness disguised as public service programming or announcements.”

Frank and Dee Lawton – Salem, AL

“It’s important that public television provide an audience with different perspectives, to keep people informed and enable them to come to their own conclusions. If public television does not provide this service, we are left with nothing but one-sided propaganda which is what is already shown on the corporate-sponsored stations.”

Sylvia Goncalves, - CT

“A public broadcaster should be concerned about maintaining their integrity. This piece sound like it could be supporting a skewed agenda, and it could hurt your reputation.”

Anna Przychodzki - Brampton, ON

“Where are the programs that support the small farmer trying to earn a living growing safe, nutritious food that is chemical free for American families? I have always supported Public Television, but without balanced programming, I may reconsider my support.”

John McGary – Petersburg,TN

“Some people who see corporate sponsors or programs aired on Public Television automatically believe that they are “environmentally-friendly” or good for the American people. Obviously, big business has their agenda – this should not be part of our public broadcasting system. I have doubts as to whether I can continue to support public broadcasting.”

Stephen Cutler - Yachats, OR

“Underwriting is a particularly effective way to influence reporting, so I tend to take such ‘reporting’ with a grain of salt. Underwriting taints what it touches. Public television should bend over backwards to present two sides to every story. I distrust the aims of these underwriters; they are after profit at the expense of the population.”

Nicole Pasternak - Yonkers, NY

“Unless a program about farming in America shows the whole picture, not just the heartwarming images of folks working on the land, but the reality of intensive farming as promulgated by large corporations and its effects on the few small farmers left in the county, then public television is failing to present a fair and balanced view. Such a failure does a huge injustice to the mission of public broadcasting.”

Wendy Hicks – Lutz, FL

“I do not accept the possibility that public broadcasting will relinquish its credibility when it comes to the content of its programs. PBS will lose something it may not be able to regain if it begins broadcasting unbalanced representations of issues that tilt toward its corporate sponsors.”

Stephen Greene – Pittsburgh, PA

“This ‘America’s Heartland’ series is sure to be a one-sided, distorted view of agriculture, and is being sponsored by some of the most notoriously biased and self-interested agricultural groups and companies in America today. The public deserves, and should demand, a fair opportunity to hear the opposing story, so America’s citizens may understand the seriousness and damaging effects of concentration, vertical integration, and genetic engineering on their food supply.”

Jerry Munson - Rapid City, IA

“I fear that the last stronghold of balanced programming that American Public Television has always been is gradually wavering to the irresistible combination of powerful corporate influence and conservative leadership from within.”

David Rains - The Colony, TX

“There are concerns that the various public television organizations in the US are gaining a strongly conservative, pro-industry bent. And the slant of the America’s Heartland series can only reinforce that view. Whatever the political opinions of us, your viewers, may be, I think we can agree that public television has always been and should always remain on of the last outposts of impartial broadcasting.”

Thomas Smith – Spartanburg, SC

“This agri-business backed series will be viewed as truth because it is on PBS, the last place many of us can find the truth. Please don’t change that!”

Ellen Honey – Annapolis, MD

“The whole point of public television is independent programming – not bought and paid for by corporate advertising.”

Mary Ondrechen – Hopkinton, MA

“First and foremost, PBS stations have an obligation to report both sides of any story, so in order to be truly fair, you must also report the downside to factory farms, both in terms of what they do to individuals and family farming, and like any factory, how it harms the environment.”

Jerry Harvey – Sarasota, FL

“Public television should pride itself on not taking advertising. That policy has been eroding for years with inflated and quasi-‘lyrical’ promos for ADM, Monsanto, and others. But to produce a whole series pushing Monsanto’s warped values is a complete betrayal of what public television used to stand for. If you go ahead with this, next time Congress want to crush public television, many of us may just shrug and turn away.”

Kathleen Jenks – Hartford, MI

“America’s Heartland is just the sort of programming that fails to pass the test of unbiased support for programming. Public television has used that criteria to deny screening of other shows and should do so in this case as well.”

Peter deKramer - Petaluma, CA