TAKE ACTION: PBS Needs Independents
Posted: Mar. 16, 2012 Sign-in to Comment Bookmark and Share

During our 30 year history as an organization, the IDA has always strived to support non-fiction public media and independent broadcasting. It is for this reason that we stand with Kartemquin Films and other leaders in the independent film community in their statement regarding PBS’s recent decision to move its exemplary series for independent documentaries, Independent Lens and POV, from their long-established slots on Tuesday night to Thursday night, a slot reserved for local programming.

The following is an open letter to PBS from Kartemquin Films in opposition to PBS’s decision regarding the two leading series that feature independent documentaries. The IDA community joins Kartemquin in their stance. We encourage all independent filmmakers and fans of public media to join us as signatories by commenting below or tweeting #PBSNeedsIndies to us on Twitter.

As independent filmmakers, as participants in the evolution of public broadcasting, as viewers and as citizens, we protest PBS’ decision to move the two premier strands of independent documentaries, Independent Lens and POV, from their established home on Tuesday nights to Thursday, a night on which local stations program locally-selected material.

We saw the change in the programming to Thursday night and were concerned about the effect it would have on the ratings. As filmmakers, we are acutely aware of the importance of program placement in a broadcast schedule. With the publishing of the March 12, 2012 article by Dru Sefton in Current magazine, we have now seen documented the dramatic effects of this shift, and that our fears were realized. We cannot wait any longer to signal our concern.

PBS's programming decision has, effectively, moved these two award-winning series off the main schedule, by leaving it up to stations to program them on their own, on perhaps the most competitive night of the TV week. Both series have carved out a trusted relationship with audiences on Tuesday nights. PBS' John Wilson has acknowledged that Thursday, a local-programming night, is a "no-fly zone" for PBS programs. Asking stations to drop programming among the most popular with their members is unreasonable.

Public television is not just a popularity contest, or a ratings game. Taxpayers support public broadcasting because democracy needs more than commercial media’s business models can provide. PBS’ programming decision makes a statement about PBS' commitment to the mission of public broadcasting. We note the definition in the recently-revised and reissued Code of Editorial Integrity for Local Public Media Organizations:

"Our purposes are to support a strong civil society, increase cultural access and knowledge, extend public education, and strengthen community life through electronic media and related community activities."

These are the stations that PBS serves. These are the stations that are well-served by well-crafted, well-told stories about underrepresented topics, meeting needs of underserved audiences in innovative ways. These are the stations that benefit from community activities related to the strands, such as ITVS's Community Cinema and LINCS programs. These are the stations that benefit from IL and POV's constant technological innovation and experiment in engagement. And these are the stations that need to cultivate younger and more diverse audiences, the kind that can be attracted by the innovative, diverse films in these series.

Films such as Where Soldiers Come From, Heather Courtney's film about Michigan reservists’ journey to Iraq and back; Chris Paine's Revenge of the Electric Car, about a crucial energy issue; Daisy Bates: First Lady of Little Rock, which revives the memory of the civil rights activist, and was directed by Sharon La Cruise; and Connie Field's Have You Heard from Johannesburg?, about the history of apartheid, serve important functions at a local and national level, reaching underserved audiences, providing both perspectives and information unavailable in the marketplace, and doing so with expert craft. They serve a critical function in the public broadcasting ecology. They serve the democratic mission of public broadcasting.

We recognize the importance of public broadcasting. We have been able to reach national audiences with significant work, and we have seen meaningful democratic engagement as a result. For instance, when In the Family showed on POV, with a multiplatform campaign, legislation was pending on genetic non-discrimination. The broadcast fostered productive conversations across the nation about the consequences of that discrimination in people’s lives. The showing of Lioness on Independent Lens fostered a broad public discussion of the rights of women veterans who had experienced combat, and was instrumental in the passage of legislation, named for the film, winning these veterans the right to Veterans Administration benefits. The showing of Farmingville on POV fostered deeper, more complex and thoughtful public discussions, both online and in person, on the effect of immigration on local communities. We are deeply concerned that PBS' poorly-considered decision could jeopardize both the meeting of public broadcasting’s mission and also stifle the innovation that is crucial to the future of public broadcasting.


Independent Filmmakers: Kartemquin and the IDA would like you to please join us in signing the above, and please share with us your stories of how a public television broadcast provided benefits to the public at, #PBSNeedsIndies, or in the comments below. After you comment, please retweet our post to show your support.

For an updated list of all who have signed the letter thus far, please refer to Kartemquin's website.

I support the above.

Renee Gayle Brutvan

I support the above.
I support the above.
I support the above
Don't hide public programs from the public!
I support the above

Public TV does not think that noncommercial voices are essential? Then why do we even need Public TV?

I support the above

Hopefully we can keep the greedy hands of the GOP off PBS.

I support the above

It's imperative that we maintain our focus on creating a positive future for us all. Media and independent films are a vital part of keeping the flame of hope alive; sustaining a new vision, and inspiring us to be conscious creators of a more just, equitable and sustainable world.

Keep Independent Lens easily accessible

At best, moving Independent Lens would mean PBS is shooting itself in the foot. At worst, it is an underhanded attempt to silence the what remains of the now-narrow spectrum of independent, noncommercial media in this country.

I support the above

Mary Skinner, 2B Productions

Don't Move POV & Independent Lens

In an age where hundreds of channels full of pablum fill the television sphere, PBS' POV and Independent Lens remain an oasis of programming that matters. I understand that PBS is now forced to act more like a commercial broadcaster and thinks it needs to be more populous in order to keep funding flowing but there comes a point where the original mission gets so distorted that it is no longer meaningful. As a documentary filmmaker it is already difficult to find venues to show your work, even with hundreds of channels available. I urge PBS to rethink this move and keep these important outlets in their current time slots where they can continue to make a difference and help society for the better.

Rich Burlingham
TMF Entertainment

I support the above

Independent Lens has been an inspiration to me and others I know in regards to the production of "meaningful" film, which has educational, social, and intellectual value. Films that raise awareness in the minds of the general public to events, issues, and artistic reason. Such programs spark a desire in young film makers, to become socially, politically, and ethically conscious of the world around them and to provoke contemplation of these ideas in the viewer.
Public Television is just that, "Public", supported by viewers. I support public television and radio, and want my Independent Lens to stay where it is, not in a time slot that may cause it to be dropped. This program is an asset to Public Television, in that it captures the mind of the younger viewers such as teenagers and young college students, folks in their 30s and 40s, and the "geriatric" set as well.

Support the above

I completely support the above statement and urge PBS to not hide great programming!

Ashley Sabin
Carnivalesque Films

I support the Above

POV and Independent Lens are amazing please recognize the value these programs contribute to our culture and to PBS.

We fully support the above

You have our full support

Diversity & Revolution Must Prevail

Independent, provocative, insightful, motivational, inspiring, riveting, and hopeful are all adjectives that describe the film/media work of talented artists on Independent Lens & POV. Please don't impede Diversity & Revolution of these times.

Attorney residing in New York City.

I support the above

Please reconsider.

I Support This!

Keep these shows national! We need it.

I support this

Please show some backbone. This is more than about numbers. You're going to hurt your mission by hiding the most powerful content on your schedule. The mentality that supports 'series' storytelling as opposed to single topic docs is what turned the history channel into a joke. Sure they're pulling better numbers but look at what they had to become to do it.

PBS Needs Independents

I strongly support this effort!

Times slot for POV & Independent Lens

Please reconsider this programming decision. Don't step back; keep moving forward!

PBS Needs Independents

I too support this effort, please reconsider the change.

I support this.

I support this.

Support for the open letter to PBS

I support the open letter to PBS from Kartemquin Films and IDA.

Dan Satorius

Independent Lens and POV Shedule Demotion

Going from one hour of work guaranteed to be made by completely independent voices, carefully curated by POV and Independent Lens, to putting them into the free-for all-of local programming on Thursday means that a local issue that deserves that time slot trumps projects which may have taken 5 years to make. These programs had built a consequential audience on Tuesday nights. One hour out of the 24/7 programming on PBS seems little enough to grant the organizations that independent filmmakers and our supporters have crafted carefully to represent original prose films on timely subjects.

Won't you reconsider your mandate to serve the public and give us all the right and opportunity to see non-fiction films that do not necessarily look like or sound like everything else on TV. PBS deserves to trust and value itself more highly that this. This move toward self=censorship belies the terror abroad in the country and moves us all one step further to fearful uniformity.

Support the open letter to PBS

I support the open letter to PBS from Kartemquim Films and IDA
Daria Price


In the media world of fantasy driven plots, dubious characters and wishful thinking, PBS provided exposure to the real world of complexity and rational reflection. Independently produced documentaries are a vital means to this end. I hope they will continue to make these "national treasures" easily accessible to a thoughtful viewing public.

I support this open letter

I urge PBS to reconsider this change.
Kirsten L.

PBS needs independents

Kenji Yamamoto and I made a documentary, Downside UP, that aired on the PBS Independent Lens series. It was a great place for our film to be screened, millions of people saw it. Tuesday has been the night during which P.O.V. and Independent Lens air for so many years, I believe audiences expect to find independent work there. I urge PBS not to make this change.

PBS and Independent Lens

I stand with my fellow independent filmmakers. As a filmmaker who has had my films aired on PBS and as an audience member for POV on Tuesday nights I urge PBS not to make this change.

I support this open letter from Kartemquin

I hope PBS reconsiders it's decision to change it's programming schedule. As as a young documentary film-maker, I fully support this open letter from Kartemquin and IDA to PBS.

I support this open letter

regarding PBS's ongoing decline in its mission to serve the public interest, convenience and necessity.

Please reconsider your decision

It is not that I am part of the documentary community that I wish you to reconsider your decision to reschedule these 2 very important programs, it is also because I am and have been for a long time an avid fan of these programs. They are important and extraordinary programs. Please do not try and fix what is not broken.
Anthony Berube
Productions Anthony Berube Inc.

I Support

I support this statement

In support

I support the statement

Letter to PBS from Kartemquin Films & IDA

I support the Open Letter to PBS and urge them not to make the schedule change they are currently planning for POV

In Support of the Letter to PBS

I support the Open Letter to PBS and urge them to keep POV and INDEPENDENT LENS on their schedule on Tuesday nights so documentaries can be seen across the country on local PBS stations everywhere.

PBS Programming for TUESDAY NIGHTS

As independent filmmaker, as viewer and as a citizen, I would like to also protest PBS’ decision to move the two premier strands of independent documentaries, Independent Lens and POV, from their established home on Tuesday nights to Thursday, a night on which local stations program locally-selected material.

Please keep POV and INDEPENDENT LENS on their scheduled Tuesday nights so documentaries can be seen across the country on local PBS stations.

Please keep these invaluable

Please keep these invaluable strands available to national audiences hungry for the important content they provide.
Janet Goldwater, Attie & Goldwater Productions

I support the above.

As a documentary filmmaker, I know that there aren't many avenues to get your documentary seen by the public. I support the stance to keep Independent Lens and POV where it is so that viewers can see these groundbreaking films.

Keep the Time Slots for Independent Lens and POV

There are very few venues for an independent filmmaker to show their work. We struggle to fund our films and we struggle to get our film
broadcast. It was wonderful working with ITVS on my and
Allen Mondell's film SISTERS OF '77. Independent Lens had
a known slot on television around the country and we were able to
reach new viewers with a film about women's rights that we believed in.
Also, what happens to much overlooked local programming when it is displaced by 2 major television strands? I support the petition to keep the time slots for Independent Lens and POV. It is good for the filmmakers and the communities.
Cynthia Salzman Mondell
Media Projects, Inc.
Dallas, Texas

PBS Needs Independents

In its decision to remove Independent Lens and POV from the national schedule, PBS has betrayed its founding principles and its raison d'etre. If enough voices are raised, the decision can be reversed, but the voices of independent film makers and producers will be insufficient. We must mobilize the millions of viewers who rely on PBS for what they can't find on commercial broadcasting. Each of us must reach out to families, friends, and acquaintances; to people in our communities who know and value the programs which are available only on public television. PBS needs to hear from them, in the thousands, and tens of thousands -- and more. Spread the word! Start the campaign!

Independent Films

There is so little that is truly "real" on a television schedule flooded with reality programs. Isn't it the job of PBS to offer quality programming and a diversity of voice free-of-charge to the American audience. To offer it in a time slot that where many stations will opt out, is like not offering it at all.

Protect Independent Lens and POV

Independent Lens and POV are 2 of the most important programs available that chronicle our human experience. So much of recorded history is watered down or simply not true. We need programs like Independent Lens and POV to help us more clearly look at ourselves and to help future generations know who we were. Please protect Independent Len and POV by giving them the most advantageous time slots and not setting them up for failure. Thank you.

documentaries on pbs

docs are more important than ever - this is no time to confuse your audience by challenging them to FIND them on your broadcast!

documentaries on pbs

this is no time to confuse your audiences by moving the long established format to share wonderful documentaries

I support Kartemquin Films

I support Kartemquin Films and all independent filmmakers.

PBS, Independent Lens, POV

Keep these shows on Tuesday night for national viewing!

POV & Independent Lens on PBS

I support the Open Letter to PBS. Please keep POV and Independent Lens on Tuesday nights.

Keep PBS MORE Independent!

Most of the only relevant titles available today are being produced independently on a song and a prayer. We do what we do out of love and commitment to the betterment of the human condition. We enter festivals (which cost money that we don't often have) to attract a pittance of attention! We need more indies, not LESS. Our population has grown dull and complacent and even stupid, as they lack the information they require to make informed decisions.
In most cases, the only alternatives they have come from some impassioned indie filmmaker who caught a break and made it onto PBS.
I do not know of one irresponsible independent. And I don't know of one rich one either. I'm talking about grassroots, not Rob Redford.
Please help provide Americans with intelligent alternatives. We are out here. Working out butts off. With borrowed equipment.
Janelle Vigil

Keep PBS Independent

I support the Open Letter to PBS