I. Introduction & Background

IA. Policy Base

The PBS National Program Funding Standards and Practices rest on three fundamental principles:

  • Public television is a major participant in the great tradition of a free and independent American press. Therefore, public television must protect its journalistic integrity and it must reinforce the accurate perception that it is a free and independent institution.

  • Public television's nonprofit, noncommercial status contributes to its independence and public television also enjoys certain financial and other benefits by virtue of its noncommercial, nonprofit status. Therefore, its noncommercial character must be preserved.

  • The diversity of program funding sources is a key element in the preservation of a free and independent public television system. Therefore, these guidelines should encourage national program underwriting from all corners of the public and private sector.


IB. Policy Objectives

Based on these fundamental principles, PBS has developed guidelines for the acceptance of program funding from third parties. These guidelines are intended to ensure:

  • That editorial control of programming remains in the hands of the producer;

  • That funding arrangements will not create the perception that editorial control had been exercised by someone other than the producer, or that the program has been inappropriately influenced by its funding sources; and

  • That the noncommercial character of public broadcasting is protected and preserved.


IC. Policy Application

  1. By PBS: These program funding policies are applied to the funding arrangements and on-air credits for programs intended for distribution by the Public Broadcasting Service (as distinguished from programs produced or acquired by individual public television stations for local or regional use).*

    For the purposes of these guidelines, a program "funder" or "underwriter" or "grantor" is a third party that has voluntarily contributed cash (or substantial in-kind services) to finance, in whole or in part, the production or acquisition of a PBS program, and that may not, and has not, exercised any inappropriate influence over the content of the program it has funded.

    Entities that are normally engaged in the production of television programs (such as public television stations, commercial production companies and foreign broadcasters like the BBC), and that finance their own productions in whole or in part, are not regarded as underwriters and are not subject to these guidelines. These parties are regarded as "producers" or "co-producers" who are solely responsible for the content of the programs they produce and who are subject to separate PBS policies.

  2. By PBS Member Stations: The PBS Board of Directors strongly encourages all PBS member stations to adopt and implement local underwriting guidelines that are consistent with these national guidelines. Nevertheless, producers and funders should be aware that individual judgments may differ in a given situation, even when the same policies are being administered, and that individual public television licensees may administer local program underwriting policies that vary from these policies.

*Although this document refers generally to programs in the singular, these policies apply equally to series of programs. And unless otherwise indicated, the word “program” is intended to include PBS Internet content.

ID. Policy Procedures

  1. Full Disclosure: Upon offering a program to PBS, producers must identify all funders and the amounts they have provided. Producers are required to disclose all written or oral funding arrangements for the program in question including any arrangements for ownership or control of copyright, any arrangements for ownership or control of ancillary rights and products*, and any arrangements for the provision of valuable in-kind goods and services or any other consideration. PBS may also examine other relevant facts and circumstances to arrive at a reasoned judgment concerning the acceptability of a program in connection with these principles.

  2. Advance Approval: PBS's principal goal in administering these guidelines is to maintain its reputation for editorial integrity and the noncommercial nature of public television. At the same time, however, PBS is also committed to assisting producers and underwriters to achieve their communications objectives to the fullest extent possible within the limits of the guidelines. Therefore, PBS strongly urges producers to provide to PBS any storyboards, scripts or any other information that will facilitate an understanding of the design and intended execution of the proposed credit before it is produced. Underwriting credits produced prior to PBS's review and approval are produced at the sole financial risk of the program producer and/or the funder.

  3. Right to Decline to Distribute: Programs that are not compliant with these guidelines will be returned to the producer for editing if time permits, or, with the producer's permission, the credits will be edited by PBS at the producer's expense. Programs that do not conform to these guidelines will not be distributed as a PBS program and will not carry the PBS logo.

* "Ancillary rights and products" include but are not limited to program distribution rights, such as videocassette and foreign broadcast rights; or the right to market and distribute derivative works, such as trade books, text books, CD recordings, CD-ROMS or other products and merchandise that are based on or derived from the program.

IE. Regulatory Requirements

In addition to achieving the policy objectives established by the PBS member stations, these guidelines also serve to ensure that broadcast programs will be in compliance with regulations of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The FCC's rules require broadcasters to "fully and fairly disclose the true identity" of all broadcast program funders. From the Commission's standpoint, the purpose served by underwriting credits is to identify the funder in the interests of full disclosure, not to promote the funder or its products and services. Consistent with this purpose, the FCC has determined that underwriting credits broadcast on public television programs may include the following identifying information in addition to the underwriter's name:

  • Logograms or slogans which identify and do not promote

  • Location information and telephone numbers

  • Value neutral descriptions of a product line or service

  • Brand and trade names and product or service listings

At the same time, however, the FCC has indicated that the public broadcaster's good faith judgment must be the key element in meeting Congress' determination that the service should remain free of commercial and commercial-like matter. Therefore, with the advice of its member stations, PBS has developed these guidelines which govern how funders of PBS programs may be identified on-air.

In addition to FCC regulations, the television depiction or description of some products or services is also regulated by the Federal Trade Commission, the Food and Drug Administration, and other federal agencies. Due to the volume and complexity of these regulations, PBS must rely on the underwriter and its advertising agency to ensure that credits are produced in compliance with applicable regulations. In addition, PBS will reserve the right to require the underwriter to indemnify PBS and its member stations against claims or losses arising from alleged or actual non-compliance with such regulations.

In addition to ensuring that underwriting credits on PBS programs comply with federal regulations, these guidelines are also intended to ensure that the funders of PBS programs are all treated fairly and consistently with respect to on-air credits; to ensure that all funding credits are presented in ways that are aesthetically pleasing, to minimize clutter and extraneous material, and to establish clear standards that can be incorporated by all public television stations in the administration of local underwriting policies.

IF. Who May be Identified as a broadcast Underwriter?

As noted above, the FCC requires broadcasters to "fully and fairly disclose the true identity" of all broadcast program funders. Therefore, an underwriting credit on the air must contain the legal corporate name of the underwriter (or the legal name of any private person who has contributed to the production).*

  1. Corporate divisions and subsidiaries: If the funding comes from a bona fide operating division or subsidiary of a corporation, that division or subsidiary may be identified by its logo or name. It is not necessary to identify the parent corporation, but it is permissible to do so (e.g., a credit may be given to Lincoln-Mercury or to the Lincoln-Mercury Division of the Ford Motor Company).

  4. Brand names: In some cases, the name of a corporation and its brand are the same; for example, Coca Cola, Apple and VISA. But in some cases, brand names are not the same as the corporation's name, nor are they bona fide divisions or subsidiaries of the parent company. For example, "Jell-O" is a brand owned by Kraft, "Crest" is a brand owned by Procter & Gamble, and "Tylenol" is a brand owned by McNeil Consumer Products Co. Brand names that are not corporate entities may still be identified as an underwriter provided that the corporate owner of the brand name, i.e., the accountable entity, is also fully and clearly disclosed on-air. One way this can be accomplished is by superimposing a lower-third disclosure statement, e.g., "Jell-OTM is a registered trademark of Kraft."

  7. Endowments: Program funding provided by station-owned endowments may or may not require disclosure (i.e., an on-air credit). See Appendix A for fuller discussion. Program funding provided by third party endowments must always be disclosed as provided for in these guidelines.

  10. Dual Credits: While these guidelines permit bona fide corporate divisions, subsidiaries and brands to be identified as underwriters, this accommodation may not be used as the pretext for providing a single underwriter with two underwriting announcements in a single credit pod. In the case of multiple grants to the same program from multiple divisions, subsidiaries or brands of a single corporate parent, PBS will examine the facts on a case-by-case basis to determine whether the grants were sufficiently separate or coincidental to warrant separate credits. The main concern will be whether the underwriting is indeed being provided by separate and independent entities, and will so be perceived; or whether, taking into account all the circumstances of the financial commitments and the creative elements of the spots, the separate underwriting is, or will be seen as, an attempt to circumvent the guidelines.

*For these purposes, terms such as "Corporation," Inc.," etc., need not be used. For example, Exxon need not be identified as the "Exxon Corporation."

IG. Special Restrictions

  1. Restrictions on Certain Classes of Underwriters
    1. Cigarettes and Distilled Spirits: PBS will not accept programs partially or fully underwritten by entities engaged solely in the manufacture or marketing of cigarettes, little cigars, and/or smokeless tobacco, as those terms are defined in Title 15, United States Code, Sections 1332 and 4408; or distilled spirits, as that term is defined in Title 26, United States Code, Section 5002 (a) (8).

      It should be noted that this prohibition relates only to cigarettes, little cigars, smokeless tobacco and distilled spirits and not to companies that manufacture or market other tobacco products, or to companies that manufacture or market wine and beer. Nonetheless, the latter may be inappropriate underwriters for certain programs or in certain dayparts.

      It should also be noted that diversified companies engaged only in part in the marketing or manufacture of cigarettes, little cigars, smokeless tobacco or distilled spirits may be acceptable as underwriters. However, on-air credits acknowledging the support of such diversified companies may neither depict nor refer to the above-named products in any manner whatsoever.

    2. Personal Products: While underwriting by entities engaged in the manufacture or marketing of personal products is acceptable, such underwriting may not be appropriate for certain programs or in certain dayparts. Such determination will be made by PBS on a case-by-case basis.

  4. Restrictions on Identification of Certain Products

    No underwriting credit may in any manner whatsoever depict or refer to any tobacco products, distilled spirits, or firearms. Display of personal products shall be evaluated on a case-by-case basis by PBS, subject to a general "waist-to-knee" prohibition.

  7. Restrictions on Certain Types of Programming

    Children's programs: PBS and its member stations believe that children are a special audience with fewer critical skills and greater vulnerability with respect to televised messages. In addition, public television has a special place in the minds of the public with respect to children's programming. Therefore, every effort must be made to avoid even the possibility that children are being exploited by public television programs, including the underwriting credits.

    How-to programs: PBS must exercise care to ensure that the editorial integrity and the noncommercial nature of its programs are vigorously maintained. Because how-to programs contain frequent references to consumer products, such as food, gardening and building items and implements, the underwriting credits on how-to programs must not contain any product identifications that would create the perception of a commercial connection between the program and the underwriter or its products or services.

    Special rules pertaining to underwriting credits for children's and how-to programs are set forth in Section III, Rules 2 and 3.