The new Medicis; Private-sector group urges fellow capitalists to chip in more money
When it comes to corporate support of public broadcasting, providing funds is what counts. But planning future means of getting these funds can be crucial too.
One way US businesses are doing this is through a support group for Public Broadcasting Service designed to encourage help from the private sector, which is being pushed by the Reagan administration to give more in the face of federal cutbacks.
The mission of the group, according to C. William Verity Jr., chairman of the President's Task Force on Private Sector Initiatives, is to ecourage ''the formation of new public/private partnerships among community groups, businesses, and local governments.''
The task force also hopes to give these groups national recognition so they can serve as models elsewhere. They can also encourage ''increased and more effective use of the time, talents, and fundraising resources of private groups, '' according to Mr. Verity.
One response came in August in the Arco boardroom in New York. At that time, a group representing 16 major PBS underwriters met with representatives of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the Public Broadcasting Service, and three PBS stations (WNET/New York, WGBH/Boston, and WQED/Pitsburgh) to discuss how business could help public broadcasting.
In a letter authorized by the Business Group to PBS president Lawrence Grossman, consultant Trish Benjes Hibben reported, ''There was an enthusiastic consensus among the attendants that a Business Group (which would be made up of the representatives from the businesss community, with counsel from PBS, the major producing stations, and possibly CPB) might be able to help PBS and the stations in encouraging the growth and vitality of Public Television.'' Some of the suggestions outlined:
* Offering counsel and advice from the corporate point of view to new companies that are interested in learning more about public television.
* Act as an advocacy group to encourage new companies to get involved with PBS.
* Become a resource for information and ideas that could benefit both PBS and individual companies.
* Act as a sounding board for PBS underwriting policy.
But will the group's work be considered a substitute for funds that industry might otherwise contribute? Some observers feel this is a real danger.
An indication of this, according to Miss Hibben, is that it was agreed not to pursue a program fund at this time, an advertising campaign, or lobbying efforts , but rather to focus on some immediate goals that would serve PBS's needs for broader and more consistent financial support and the company needs for better communication and recognition.
Yet in a memo dated Oct. 5, Mr. Grossman replied: ''We are indeed grateful for your special interest in and concern for public television. . . . Public television has no higher priority than to foster increased financial support from the private sector. We are eager to encourage program underwriting and get on with the job of dealing with all underwriting questions and problems quickly and effectively.''
Mr. Grossman suggested that the informal group be called Corporate Support For Public Television. He suggested its mission would be:
1. To offer counsel and advice to companies thereby encouraging new entries into public television's corporate underwriting ranks
2. To serve as an exchange and clearing house for underwriting information, data, and questions
3. To help corporations derive the maximum benefit from underwriting, deal with problems, and develop methods for evaluation of results, as well as undertake appropriate research into public television underwriting efforts
4. To help corporations become more knowledgeable about public television.
Mr. Grossman recommended that the group operate within the framework of the PBS board of directors, working closely with the national producing stations. He proposed that the chairman of this new organization be a current lay member of the PBS board of directors from the corporate community, appointed by the chairman of PBS, which would provide staff support. To cover the group's out-of-pocket expense, however, he propsed an annual charge of $1,500 to $2,000 per corporate participant.
Those who have followed the development of this support group are wondering if its effectiveness may be lessened by appearing to be too much under the umbrella of PBS, or to be an in-house lobbying group.
In any event, tentative plans call for another meeting of business committee in November. At that time it will be determined how much top-level PBS input the group wants.
The corporations involved have made it clear they want to help make certain that public broadcasting survives the current economic crunch. Now all they have to do is convince other businesses to pitch in, too.