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Public Media and the Smithsonian Controversy

What is the obligation of "the Nation's Attic" to the public? That was the question when the Smithsonian Institution announced a new arrangement with CBS/Showtime to create content, Smithsonian on Demand, for a new digital channel. In a cloudy press release, the national museum announced that henceforth, if a filmmaker wanted to make a film using substantial amounts of Smithsonian materials, that filmmaker had to give digital channel first chance at the film. Would that mean that public television productions would not get made? Would filmmakers be unable to quote liberally from Smithsonian archives? What was the responsibility of the Smithsonian, three-quarters of whose funds come from taxpayers, to the public?

The Center informed its own members of the controversy, and many of them joined in signing, as did Center director Aufderheide, a public letter to the Smithsonian director Lawrence Small. Small has since clarified the terms of the contract somewhat, and filmmakers, curators, programmers and others continue to ask for further public disclosure; some are demanding a retraction of the deal. The blogosphere is buzzing.