ITVS Responds to The New Yorker article on Park Avenue and Citizen Koch


In the past week, The New Yorker published an article drawing a connection between corporate influence and freedom of expression that has generated a flurry of press coverage.

ITVS appreciates the scrutiny of the important issue of corporate influence on public broadcasting, and indeed on media in general. As a majority-publicly-funded institution, a rarity even within public broadcasting, ITVS has long been proud of our ability to act independently of corporate and government influence.

Our history of providing top-flight journalism among the rich mix of films we help bring to public broadcasting often puts us in the position of taking on powerful stakeholders. Viewers depend on ITVS-funded filmmakers for the high-quality independent documentaries that appear on our signature TV series Independent Lens and on other PBS series including POV, Frontline, and American Masters.

We treasure our relationship with our viewers, with public broadcasting, and our many other community and NGO partners. Above all, we hold dear our relationships with independent producers and deeply respect the courage and tenacity it takes to tell authentic, compelling stories that inform and connect citizens in a noisy 21st century media space.

As a matter of policy, ITVS respects the privacy of filmmakers and our negotiations. We therefore declined an interview request from The New Yorker staff writer Jane Mayer for a May 20, 2013 article she was framing around two documentaries with storylines on David H. Koch. In the days after its publication, we continued to decline interview requests from other outlets.

ITVS now believes the rising flow of misinformation surrounding Park Avenue: Money, Power and the American Dream and Citizen Koch requires public exposure of the facts. We believe these facts demonstrate our commitment to the creative vision of filmmakers, independent journalistic documentaries, and diverse perspectives on issues that are critical for our American democracy and culture.

Here are the facts:

  • ITVS not only supports but also seeks out and funds hard-hitting journalistic documentaries on timely and important issues. ITVS funded and shepherded to Independent Lens in the current season alone award-winning films such as Park Avenue, The House I Live In, The Invisible War, and As Goes Janesville. The quality of Independent Lens programs is reflected in 10 Peabody awards and seven Emmys for the series, which is co-curated with PBS.
  • ITVS funded Alex Gibney’s film Park Avenue, and Independent Lens senior series producer Lois Vossen worked closely with him, per standard protocol, to meet PBS editorial standards and have the film broadcast on PBS.
  • In April 2012, ITVS sent filmmakers Tia Lessin and Carl Deal a standard letter inviting them to begin negotiations for production license funding from ITVS based on their written proposal. Communications between the filmmakers and ITVS continued until April 2013, well beyond the Park Avenue broadcast on November 12, 2012.
  • ITVS initially recommended the film Citizen Corp for production licensing based on a written proposal. Early cuts of the film, including the Sundance version, did not reflect the proposal, however, and ITVS eventually withdrew its offer of a production agreement to acquire public television exhibition rights. The film was neither contracted nor funded.
  • ITVS has worked with thousands of independent filmmakers since our inception. We are committed to supporting the creative vision of filmmakers and respectfully acknowledge that their creative process will bring forth films that no longer reflect the original proposal on which ITVS based its funding recommendation. Filmmakers sometimes choose a new path during the negotiations of the ITVS production agreement as other financial, distribution, and editorial opportunities arise. In the case of the proposed project Citizen Corp (later retitled Citizen Koch), the filmmakers’ shift in editorial direction from the written proposal during the negotiation window led ITVS to cease negotiations.
  • ITVS works hard to shepherd programs en route to broadcast, but it has no authority over the national or local public television schedule. Neither ITVS nor Independent Lens confirmed a broadcast slot for Citizen Corp.
  • ITVS did not attach its name to Citizen Koch at Sundance Film Festival because a production licensing agreement had not been executed.
  • ITVS did not share a cut of Citizen Koch to PBS or any public television station because the film was never contracted by ITVS. The filmmakers continue to control distribution of their film.

Public broadcasting is a complex set of mostly independently operating entities, including PBS, broadcast stations, and a variety of producing organizations. ITVS is unique in this ecosystem. We hope the important conversation about corporate influence will continue, within not only public broadcasting but also the broader media, and stay grounded in facts and substance.

  • Lordwhorfin

    Deal says you’re lying [via Democracy Now]

    CARL DEAL: Stunning. Stunning. We were really disappointed, that we have an opportunity right now for ITVS to engage in a really important conversation about who has influence over what goes on the public airwaves. You know, PBS was set up, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, to serve the public interest, not private interests. And so, we’re really disappointed with that statement, because when ITVS came in and decided to become a production partner with us, we were a year into production. We had our characters cast. We had our story lines. We presented them with written proposals, with video proposals, that completely reflect the film that we delivered. The only thing that changed, from the time that they saw a rough cut of the film and the time we got into Sundance and these series of strange meetings started to happen, was Alex Gibney’s film aired.

    Further, Vossen better get Mayer to drop the quotes re duct tape and power from The New Yorker or no self respecting film maker should EVER work with her again. If those quotes are inaccurate, why doesn’t ITVS get the article corrected? If they are accurate, then your legalese weaseling above is just disgusting.

    Truth to power indeed.

  • chinasmommy .

    Wow. Your defense is crap. I’m through with public television. You drank the Koch.

  • Lordwhorfin

    Moderating out comments that call you liars doesn’t make you look any better.

  • George Bartnick

    I just want to see CITIZEN KOCH.

  • Caroline

    Why didn’t ITVS categorically deny Koch influence (or its proxy) in their decision not to contract for production license for Citizen Koch? My guess: They are influenced by Koch or its proxy. In fact, ITVS states clearly they were interested in “Citizen Corp”, but withdrew the offer after editorial direction changed. Obviously, renaming the film “Citizen Koch” implies how the editorial direction changed.

    Filmmakers need money. The belief that demonizing one of their biggest sugar daddies will keep the cash flowing defies reality.

    While “Park Avenue” told no new stories, it portrayed excellently modern examples of how the well-heeled in society write the laws and install Presidents and Vice Presidents. The film did not focus on the deeds of just one person, but of a few who happen to reside at the same address….and happen to be republicans. As a bonus, the filmmakers associated the bad deeds of these elitist guys with all republicans, libertarians and tea-party types.
    Whether or not one appreciates the editorial viewpoints made in “Park Avenue”, the fact remains that “Citizen Koch” very well may have been perceived as “Park Avenue part 2”, and with the added bonus of a very effective brand-worthy title. After “Park Avenue”, I suspect at least half of traditional donors (republicans, libertarians and tea-party types) would object to a film that might present similar sub-themes.
    As for ITVS, I wish they would’ve just admitted the funding issues. No one bites the hand that feeds it. No one does.

  • Larry White

    I agree that the ITVS response explained absolutely nothing, and only showed they were hiding behind the official reponse, which was just the usual political garbage!

  • disqus_0ja3jI46Zx

    So in others words, the New Yorker article is true and you are just trying to protect your own behinds.

  • Bev Miles

    This response only proves that you value your “friendship” (aka Koch money) over excellent journalism. When research for `Citizen Corp` revealed too much negativity about your `friend`, David Koch, you withdrew your endorsement of the project. Prove me wrong – engage PBS to air `CITIZEN KOCH` uncensored, and promptly, while the issue of your bowing to corporate interests is still hot.

  • Bill Tutuki

    Wait the Producers and Directors that produced “Citizen Koch” should pull out of the contract with ITVS and PBS affiliates and move the movie to LinkTV and Free Speech TV. Look here in California we have to deal with the Koch Brothers trying to take over as the majority investor of CW affiliate KTLA and LA Times (Tribune Media outlets). I know The Koch’s have been viewed as the Boogeyman for the right because they donated to Grover Norquist and the Tea Party Lobby/SuperPacs.

    I know that the Koch’s have been donors to Nova on PBS for 10 years. But its all politics. PBS, ITVS, APT, NETA, EPS, and other production companies that appear on PBS affiliates under pressure to be fair and balanced while Free Speech TV and Link TV does not have to do that.

    Although there is 1 PBS affiliate that can get away with airing Citizen Koch and thats KRCB-TV Santa Rosa, Ca because they air LinkTV during the Overnight hours from 12am to 6am after the PBS primetime shows are done.

  • M. Carpenter

    Do you really think that PBS viewers are so naïve? Even if you didn’t get direct pressure to drop this film, I’ve no doubt that PBS, at the VERY LEAST, asked you not to put them in the precarious position of having make a decision that would displease the Koch brothers. I weep for the hypocrisy.

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