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PBS Standards


Producers and PBS staff must remain accountable and responsive to the audience, PBS’s public editor, and PBS member stations. 


Accountability requires producers to stand by their work and to be prepared and willing to respond to relevant inquiries about it, including through active and thoughtful digital engagement with the audience. Accountability also means that producers must adhere to the highest professional standards of conduct and diligently pursue and report the truth. Conflicts of interest must be avoided, and any real or perceived conflicts that could have the appearance of influencing content must be disclosed to PBS. 


Producers must correct errors, in close consultation with PBS, as soon as they determine that errors occurred. Producers must also work closely with PBS to respond in a timely manner, and to the best of their abilities, to questions or criticisms from the public about significant editorial decisions or ethical issues related to content.

Application Examples

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

Avoid Gratuitously Offensive or Objectionable Material

While controversial and sensitive material may need to be included in PBS content, material that is gratuitously offensive (e.g., extreme violence, racial epithets, sexism, graphic language, or nudity) should not be included unless it is essential to understanding the matter at hand and does not violate federal law against broadcasting indecent and profane content. Material that is included merely to shock or draw attention and that does not impart valuable information is gratuitous. Given that questions of taste cannot be answered in the abstract, specific issues should be resolved in consultation with PBS Programming and Standards & Practices staff in light of contemporary standards of taste, the law, and the newsworthiness of the material. If PBS concludes that the exclusion of such material would distort an important reality or impair the content’s artistic quality, PBS may condition distribution of the content on providing audiences and member stations with sufficiently clear advance notice.

Correct Errors Promptly and Clearly

Producers are responsible for correcting errors in a timely manner that is abundantly clear to the audience. Producers must immediately bring to PBS’s attention the discovery of any significant errors, and producers should regularly inform PBS of all other errors so that PBS can monitor trends and ensure accountability. Producers must also be responsive to the public when errors are brought to their attention, and in doing so, producers must closely cooperate with PBS in communicating any necessary corrections to the public. 

RELATED >  Be Transparent About Corrections (PBS Standards guidance memo)

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.

Publish Documentation of Sources

Producers should make publicly available materials that document their sources whenever feasible. If content is later challenged or called into question, producers must be prepared to make responsive information available to PBS (e.g., annotated scripts).

RELATED >  How This Investigative News Site Shows Its Work to Build Trust with Readers from Dec. 20, 2018 (The Lenfest Institute for Journalism)

Avoid Influencing the Course of Events

Images and video are extraordinarily powerful tools; the mere presence of cameras can change or influence events. Producers should endeavor to minimize and, to the extent possible, eliminate this interference. In crowds, demonstrations, and riots, as well as in other similar circumstances, camera crews and production teams should seek to be as inconspicuous as possible, particularly when their presence might incite an extreme reaction or unduly influence the course of events.

Related Case Studies

Interactive scenarios involving the principle of Accountability:

Related Articles

More in-depth exploration of the principle of Accountability:

Editorial Principles

More Resources