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PBS Ombudsman: Drones Program Would’ve Been Better Off Without Lockheed Martin Support

The ombudsman for the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) has responded to complaints about the perception that an episode of NOVA called “Rise of the Drones” received “additional funding” from Lockheed Martin, one of the biggest US military defense contractors in the United States.

In my review of the documentary on January 24, which was published the day after the documentary premiered, I noted that the program had apparently received some amount of funding from Lockheed Martin, which on its face looked like a violation of PBS’ underwriting guidelines.

The media watchdog group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) picked up on what I noticed and put out an “Action Alert” asking PBS ombudsman Michael Getler to investigate whether NOVA’s “Rise of the Drones” violated PBS underwriting guidelines. By January 29, the ombudsman had received over 550 comments on the program.

Getler responded:

…I commend, especially, Kevin Gosztola of, and also FAIR, for calling attention to this issue. It is, so to speak, a fair one. I think the Lockheed funding does present a perception and commercial test problem for PBS. My feeling is that this particular program would have been much better off without Lockheed support. That is easy for me, an outsider, to say when it comes to finding funders for programs.

The guidelines deal with issues surrounding a series of programs and require that “funders must be credited for the run of the series and must not vary from program to program,” so that seems to mean Lockheed could not have been dropped for this specific program since it has been providing some additional funding of NOVA generally since last year. On the other hand, the perception test guideline also says, “As a general rule, a funder that would not be acceptable for any single program in a series would not be acceptable to fund any other part of the same series.” That raises the question, did NOVA and Lockheed know that a program on drones was coming down the road a year later? [emphasis added]

Getler wrote that when he viewed the program he thought it was “good and useful” yet, when he began to receive complaints, he felt “deceived by NOVA.”

He also explained, “FAIR acknowledged that it wasn’t their eagle-eyes that spotted Lockheed’s funding involvement. That came from Kevin Gosztola who reported in a posting on on Jan. 24 that, ‘before the documentary began, PBS noted the program had received funding from the David H. Koch Foundation for Science. It also received ‘additional funding’ from Lockheed Martin.’ He pointed out that Lockheed is ‘one of the nation’s biggest military defense contractors and is developing drones.'”

What I did not catch (which Getler incorrectly gives me credit for reporting) is that the “actual broadcast included an underwriting announcement” with Lockheed Martin mentioned at the beginning, however, the credit was removed from the webcast and the company did not receive credit on the NOVA website for the documentary.

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."