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PBS Standards


Editorial independence is essential to serving the public interest and preserving the public’s trust. Content distributed by PBS must be free of undue influence from third-party funders, political interests, and other outside forces. 


PBS must remain unwavering in its commitment to distributing content that exemplifies ethical and journalistic integrity rather than advancing commercial interests. This obligation is achieved through the good-faith professional judgment of producers and PBS staff and by carefully listening to the public. Editorial independence gives producers the intellectual freedom to achieve the other core principles.

Application Examples

Guidance on how to put the principle of Independence into practice:

Identify Real or Perceived Conflicts of Interest

Producers must not accept gifts, favors, or compensation from individuals and businesses that they cover (other than tokens of nominal value). Such gifts, favors, or compensation could have the appearance of influencing content, regardless of the intent, and should be politely refused. Producers must inform PBS about any real or perceived conflicts of interest throughout the production process. This includes any financial or personal interests, or the activities of family members, companions, or close relatives that could reasonably be perceived as having the potential to influence the producer’s work. Producers also should avoid engaging in political activities or public expressions that could reasonably be perceived as undermining their ability to produce impartial content. For example, while producers may wish to publicly share certain views, producers must ensure that those views do not create a real or perceived conflict of interest with projects that they are actively developing for PBS. In some cases, a real or perceived conflict of interest can be addressed by prominently disclosing it to the audience. In other instances, a real or perceived conflict of interest may require certain changes to the content, necessitate changes to the production process, or prevent PBS from accepting the producer’s content for distribution.

RELATED > When Is A Friendship A Conflict of Interest? from Feb. 26, 2016 (NPR public editor)

Do Not Generally Pre-Screen Content for Interested Parties

Work in progress (including rough cuts, fine cuts, and segments) generally should not be pre-screened for funders, interviewees, or outside parties that may exert undue influence. The editorial process must remain free from any attempt to influence or interfere with the professional judgments of producers and PBS. The executive producer, in consultation with PBS, may pre-screen content in limited circumstances to, for example, ensure the accuracy of sensitive information or to comply with national security concerns. The pre-screening of content for media critics or for other publicity purposes is a common and generally acceptable practice subject to appropriate embargoes and provided that no undue influence occurs. 

Consider How Editorial Partnerships Impact PBS's Credibility

PBS and its producers may from time to time enter into editorial partnerships with other media organizations, educational or cultural institutions, freelance journalists, or other parties. While these collaborations are generally encouraged, producers and PBS staff should be mindful of the potential impact on PBS’s credibility, and they must ensure that all editorial partners adhere to these standards. Furthermore, all editorial partnerships must adhere to the PBS Co-Production Guidelines. The principle of transparency also requires that any such partnerships be clearly disclosed to the audience.

Related Case Studies

Interactive scenarios involving the principle of Independence:

Related Articles

More in-depth exploration of the principle of Independence:

Editorial Principles

More Resources