Perhaps the TV network most affected by Hollywood’s movement against sexual assault is PBS. The system of networks fired two marquee names — Charlie Rose and Tavis Smiley — when they were accused of sexual misconduct last year.
PBS President and CEO Paula Kerger explained to reporters Tuesday at the TCA winter TV previews how PBS came to those decisions and how it has changed in the wake of Rose’s and Smiley’s exits.
“As you know, the way that we’re organized is that the production that comes to public broadcasting is all done by independent organizations, as was [Rose]’s. It was an independent production company that was housed at Bloomberg,” Kerger said. “That’s where he produced his program. He managed the program himself — all of the human resources — all of that came out of his own organization. We didn’t have the kind of view into that organization and we learned of the issue with Charlie Rose the morning they actually wrote the story in The Washington Post.”
In the meantime, world renowned reporter Christiane Amanpour is filling in for Rose while the network seeks a permanent replacement. “I am particularly happy to have Christiane Amanpour, who I think is an amazing talent, and creating an opportunity to bring her to public television has been great,” Kerger said. “But look, Charlie Rose was on the air for 25 years, and I think we have a moment to really think very hard about what we want to do at 11 o’clock broadcasting, and so we’re looking at a lot of different possibilities, of which Christiane may very well be a part.”
The allegations against Smiley differed, however, because the complaint came directly to PBS, putting them in a position to investigate.
“Because we were contacted by someone [directly], we hired a law firm that has expertise in this area and they conducted the investigation. I’m sure many of you have seen what [Smiley] has spoken about in the press. The investigation included, quite frankly, an interview with him,” Kerger explained. “It was based on multiple allegations of inappropriate behavior, as well as his own words about what happened, that led us to the decision to suspend his program.”
On a personnel level, PBS is re-enforcing their anti-sexual harassment policies and making sure their employees know of the multiple ways to report inappropriate or troubling behavior.
“Within PBS, we obviously have had for many years very clear policies not only around accepted behavior but also remedies. That is the most important, that people feel that if they are uncomfortable. You want to make sure that they understand how they can raise issues as they arise,” Kerger said. “Part of that is about having an HR department that is robust and equipped to deal with issues so they are not only responsive but proactive in looking across the organization and trying to anticipate issues. By the way, that also ties into good management and looking into ways that we can strengthen the organization so that people can bring the best work.”
The organization also has a whistleblower hotline that employees can use for reporting. Sexual harassment training will now be required annually and managers have a mandated second level of training they must complete each year.
“We’re going to require people to go through training every year, so that it’s always fresh and people are just reminded what it is to be in a workplace where people are treated with respect, but also feel comfortable that they can build relationships,” Kerger said. “That’s part of the challenge that we all face moving forward is how do we talk about it to one another?”