Statement about “A Word From Our Sponsor,” by Carl Deal & Tia Lessin
May 21, 2013
Our film CITIZEN KOCH tells a story about how the money of the few drowns out the voices of the many. Set against the Supreme Court’s controversial decision in Citizens United and the rise of the Tea Party and Occupy movements, the film explores the consequences for democracy when private interests determine who is elected to deliver public good.
Public television had commissioned our film last spring, but fearing that our film would displease one of its large contributors, public television abruptly backed out on our deal.
Investigative journalist Jane Mayer exposes the self-censorship process in her New Yorker article “A Word from Our Sponsor: Public television’s attempts to placate David Koch.” The carefully documented piece reveals how the role of billionaire industrialist and conservative activist David Koch as a trustee of and donor to PBS flagship stations WNET and WGBH compromised the independence and integrity of public broadcasting. It also tells the story of how we, as a result, lost our own public television commission for CITIZEN KOCH.
Public television viewers also lost out by being denied an opportunity to participate in a discussion of the issues our film raises.
After much thought, we decided to go public with our experience hoping that, like the film itself, it will spark conversation about how power wielded by high-dollar political donors like Charles and David Koch distorts the public dialogue.
With the possibility looming that the Kochs’ may purchase the Tribune Company of newspapers, this conversation takes on vital relevance to the public.
Documentary filmmaking is the nexus of art and journalism, and we hope that Mayer’s exposé informs honest conversations within and outside public television and the independent filmmaking community about the role and importance of public financing for public arts institutions and that it also encourages people to take a stand against censorship in any form.