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Petitions Urge Thumbs Up for “Citizen Koch" Film

PHOTO: Public television affiliates around the U.S. are being buffeted by a film about a pair of controversial billionaires. Courtesy Elsewhere Films.
PHOTO: Public television affiliates around the U.S. are being buffeted by a film about a pair of controversial billionaires. Courtesy Elsewhere Films.
October 9, 2013

BOSTON - Petition drives are asking public television stations to air a documentary called "Citizen Koch." It's about money in politics and the two billionaires, Charles and David Koch, who support conservative causes.

Their backing of climate change skeptics especially angers a group called Forecast the Facts, which finds it untenable that David Koch sits on the board of trustees of influential Boston PBS affiliate WGBH.

Emily Southard, Forecast the Facts campaign manager, said the group plans to make its presence felt at today's board meeting "and hand over, at this point, over 90,000 petition signatures calling for David Koch's removal from their board."

The filmmakers tried unsuccessfully to make "Citizen Koch" part of the PBS "Independent Lens" series, and secured final financing through a Kickstarter campaign. Petition drives are aimed at getting airdates for the film on PBS affiliates in Denver, Los Angeles and other cities, and on the PBS national network.

Tia Lessin, co-director with Carl Deal of "Citizen Koch," said she feels that a film that doesn't get a national broadcast doesn't really get seen.

"We wanted a national, prime-time commitment from public television," she said, "and so, to kind of divvy this up place-by-place, state-by-state, makes it a problem in terms of getting the viewership that I think this film deserves."

David Koch resigned from the board of New York PBS affiliate WNET in May. No reason was given, but the airing of another documentary critical of Koch and other big-money New Yorkers had ruffled feathers there, according to Southard.

"The WNET episode was a disturbing example of how the presence of someone like Koch can lead to dangerous self-censorship in our public television stations," she said.

A WGBH spokesperson has dismissed the idea that Koch influences programming.

Lessin said the film is about the undue influence of billionaires on democracy and elections.

"What our experience in trying to get public television support for this film shows is that these billionaires also have undue influence over our public media," she said. "I think that's wrong."

She said she believes public media should be supported by viewers and not defunded at a time when independent journalism is much needed.

Mark Scheerer, Public News Service - MA