PBS "Rise of the Drones" Documentary: Public Service or Propaganda?

By:  Joe Wolverton, II, J.D.
PBS "Rise of the Drones" Documentary: Public Service or Propaganda?

Questions of propriety have arisen regarding Lockheed Martin's contribution of funds to the production of a much-hyped PBS drone documentary which aired on January 23.

On January 23, PBS aired a much-hyped documentary on the increasing presence of drones. The program, part of the NOVA Science series, is called Rise of the Drones, and the promotional material produced by PBS said the program shows

the amazing technologies that make drones so powerful as we see how a remotely-piloted drone strike looks and feels from inside the command center. From cameras that can capture every detail of an entire city at a glance to swarming robots that can make decisions on their own to giant air frames that can stay aloft for days on end, drones are changing our relationship to war, surveillance, and each other.

As the documentary began, PBS ran a list of benefactors who helped make the production possible. Included in that credit roll was Lockheed Martin.

Lockheed Martin is the nation’s second-largest defense contractor, earning billions annually in revenues from government contracts. In 2009, for example, 74 percent of Lockheed Martin’s total revenue came from military sales.

Therein lies the problem, according to a recent investigative report by Kevin Gosztola.

Gosztola writes that in accepting Lockheed Martin’s contribution to the NOVA drone documentary, PBS may have violated its own underwriting guidelines. In the article Gosztola reports that there is a three-prong test for accepting funding.

First, PBS must determine whether the underwriter (Lockheed Martin, in this case) has exercised any level of “editorial control” over the content of the program.

Second, is it possible that the public could perceive that the underwriter had exercised editorial control?

And finally, “might the public conclude the program is on PBS principally because it promotes the underwriter’s products, services, or other business interests?”

On its face, the Rise of the Drones documentary fails at least the last two prongs of the underwriting protocols.

As quoted above, the description of the program is fawning and could have been copied and pasted from Lockheed Martin’s own promotional materials.

A crucial question, however, is whether Lockheed Martin makes drones or any of the technology used in them.

Click here to read the entire article.

Graphic: Rise of the Drones promotional photo

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