Koch, the patron. Koch, the tyrant.

Koch, the patron. Koch, the tyrant.

Even on public television, she argued, patronage buys influence. ‘It raises issues about what public television means,” she said. “They are in the middle of so much funding pressure.’

The story that has emerged this week was disheartening. Billionaire industrialist Charles Koch, known for huge campaign donations to candidates, think tanks, advocacy groups, and in campaigns like California’s Proposition 32 last year, had been a powerful influence in the derailing of a documentary critical of his role in the post Citizen’s United political landscape. The film, “Citizen Koch”, received scrutiny after an unprecedented level of interference with a documentary that aired last year about the uber-rich that involved Charles Koch and the leadership at the largest public television affiliate, New York’s WNET.

It is to be expected, as PBS and related groups receive less government funding and must make up the difference through private and corporate donations. In a more benign way, much content on public TV already appeals to the white well-to-do funding base of most affiliates. However, if public television cannot act in the public interest due to the strings that come attached with its funding, it quickly becomes irrelevant. If it’s driven by cash and pandering, it’s no different than for-profit network and cable television.

Not to say that this documentary is the greatest thing ever made- have not seen it, can’t judge. But the shifting treatment that the filmmakers received as time went on indicates that the change of heart was motivated by external forces. The issue isn’t so much Charles Koch but WNET. Its importance and influence keep other PBS affiliates hostage, and since their main sources of funding are incredibly wealthy individuals, their interests are the first to be considered.

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