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Charlie Rose and Tavis Smiley Sexual Harassment Scandals Have Lead to ‘Systematic Change’ at PBS

TCA: Network president Paula Kerger said that PBS training policies and expectations from independent producers are both changing going forward.

Charlie Rose and Tavis Smiley

Charlie Rose and Tavis Smiley

Patrick Lewis/Starpix/REX/Shutterstock, Rich Fury/Invision/AP/REX/Shutterstock

In the wake of suspending both Charlie Rose and Tavis Smiley for sexual misconduct, PBS is enacting changes to help prevent similar misconduct in the future.

“It’s important we ensure that this isn’t just a moment and that we move on but we are looking into ways to create systematic change,” PBS President and CEO Paula Kerger said at the Television Critics Association press tour on Tuesday.

Kerger noted the bolstering of the network’s anti-harassment efforts, even though many of them had already existed, such as PBS’ whistleblower line, where workplace misconduct can be addressed. These calls “go directly to our board, not to management,” per Kerger. The network’s harassment policies, which had also been in place some months before the #MeToo movement started, requires that employees go through training once a year, with managers going through a second level of training.

Drawing distinctions between the institutional involvement in the production of Rose and Smiley’s shows, Kerger explained that “we can be even clearer of our expectations” when coordinating with outside producers. She described that the network was first aware of the Rose allegations on the morning that the November report was published in the Washington Post.

“When we are aware of issues, we move quickly,” Kerger said.

Christiane Amanpour has been serving as Rose’s temporary replacement in his previous timeslot, via a PBS version of her CNN International series “Amanpour.” Kerger acknowledged that the network is pleased with the work she’s done, in particular the first American interview with French President Emmanuel Macron. As to the future of the network’s late-night programming, Kerger left the possibility open for a different host to be the permanent replacement. 

“Charlie Rose was on the air for 20 years…We had a certain feel to late night on public broadcasting,” Kerger said. “We’re looking for possibilities of which Christiane may be a part. If it evolves into something where we have a fuller role with her, that’s great.”

In November, Charlie Rose was suspended after eight women accused him of sexual harassment that ranged from walking around naked in their presence, sharing his sexual fantasies on lewd phone calls, and groping them. All of the women either worked on or aspired to work on his show, “Charlie Rose.”

At the time, Rose released the following statement to the Washington Post:

In my 45 years in journalism, I have prided myself on being an advocate for the careers of the women with whom I have worked. Nevertheless, in the past few days, claims have been made about my behavior toward some former female colleagues.

It is essential that these women know I hear them and that I deeply apologize for my inappropriate behavior. I am greatly embarrassed. I have behaved insensitively at times, and I accept responsibility for that, though I do not believe that all of these allegations are accurate. I always felt that I was pursuing shared feelings, even though I now realize I was mistaken.

I have learned a great deal as a result of these events, and I hope others will too. All of us, including me, are coming to a newer and deeper recognition of the pain caused by conduct in the past, and have come to a profound new respect for women and their lives.

In December, Tavis Smiley was suspended following an investigation of misconduct allegations in which he was accused of having sexual relations with subordinates, whose employment status may have been linked to the relations.

“PBS has indefinitely suspended distribution of ‘Tavis Smiley,’ produced by TS Media, an independent production company,” PBS said in a statement. “PBS engaged an outside law firm to conduct an investigation immediately after learning of troubling allegations regarding Mr. Smiley. This investigation included interviews with witnesses as well as with Mr. Smiley. The inquiry uncovered multiple, credible allegations of conduct that is inconsistent with the values and standards of PBS, and the totality of this information led to today’s decision.”

PBS’ swift actions were just the start of the broadcaster taking sexual harassment and misconduct seriously. On Tuesday, PBS also announced the five-part series, “#MeToo, Now What?” to discuss how to move forward. The series, hosted by Zainab Salbi, will premiere in February.

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