May 26, 2006
Smithsonian Contract Creates "Tremendous Hullabalo" for Congress
Smithsonian officials were summoned before the House Administration Committee to explain a 30-year television contract with Showtime Networks. The 170-page deal created an on-demand cable station that will feature Smithsonian programs and collections. The deal gives the new network the right of first refusal on commercial documentaries that “rely significantly” on the museum's archives, curators or scientists. The Smithsonian said, however, that researchers and scholars will continue to have access to the archives and other Smithsonian resources. But commercial filmmakers can make only "incidental" use of the materials unless they are working with Showtime or get special approval.
The main objection to the deal is that the resources of the Smithsonian are being made exclusively available to Showtime. However, Smithsonian officials responded that only a very small number of filmmakers would be affected, and that, of the 900 media contracts signed between 2000 and 2005, only 17 had more than an incidental use of Smithsonian resources.
Objections also aimed at the secrecy of the deal and the 30-year duration of the contract. The contract was never made public and had been kept in secrecy due to a confidentiality agreement, but the Smithsonian handed it over to the Committee yesterday.
As a sign of Congress' disapproval, the Committee reduced the proposed Smithsonian budget by $20 million. The secretary of the Smithsonian apologized “for the tremendous hullabaloo” the deal had caused Congress. He added: “If we have even an idea we will come to [the Committee].”
[Meredith R. Miller]
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