May 9, 2006
Regula leaning toward new policy for the Smithsonian
By Paul M. Krawzak
Copley News Service
WASHINGTON - Rep. Ralph Regula is mostly satisfied with a new Smithsonian Institution policy that critics have charged will limit filmmakers’ access to the world’s largest museum complex.
“I want to reserve a little judgment on it because I want to be reassured that there is public access,” Regula, R-Bethlehem Township, said after the Smithsonian Board of Regents met Monday.
The Smithsonian, a public institution, has drawn sharp criticism from filmmakers and several lawmakers after agreeing to a programming venture with CBS/Showtime Networks that may limit other filmmakers’ ability to produce Smithsonian-originated programs.
Under a contract approved last year by the Board of Regents, of which Regula is a member, Showtime will create a stand-alone cable channel that will provide 100 hours of Smithsonian-originated programming each year to certain subscribers.
The deal is controversial because it includes a change in policy that limits use of the Smithsonian by independent producers who want to make more than “incidental” use of the museum collection as part of a commercial project.
Smithsonian officials said filmmakers who desire to make “significant” use of the complex’s resources would be expected to approach Showtime with the idea. But they added that the Smithsonian retains the right to grant independent producers use of the museums for a major film project despite the contract with Showtime.
Defenders of the deal, including Regula, said the venture will bring the Smithsonian to a wider audience.
“I’ve always advocated that we need to get more information out on the Smithsonian,” Regula said. “This is a wonderful resource and probably 5 percent of the American public ever gets there.”
After the agreement was announced in March, Regula expressed surprise that the new venture might limit access to the Smithsonian. He said he had to study the issue.
Since then, criticism of the new policy has intensified.
Last week, a House appropriations subcommittee that Regula once chaired protested the restricted access by voting to cut $5.3 million from a proposed $644 million federal contribution to the Smithsonian.
The Board of Regents, whose meetings are closed to the public, on Monday discussed the criticism and agreed to respond to the appropriations panel’s concerns with a letter expected to go out within a few days.
During a meeting with reporters later in the day, Smithsonian secretary Lawrence Small minimized the impact of the policy change. He said that of some 900 media requests to use the Smithsonian in the past five years, only a handful involved major use of the facilities that would fall within the purview of the new policy.
Both Small and Regula declined to elaborate on the letter to the subcommittee.
Small said he did not know how many viewers would have access to the Smithsonian channel when it debuts in December, nor did he know what the subscription cost would be.