In recent weeks, various media sources have reported on a new partnership between the Smithsonian Institution and the cable media provider Showtime Networks
The Smithsonian Institution signed the deal with Showtime Networks to make television programming, and part of that contract would allow Showtime "first right of refusal" for film projects that focus on Smithsonian holdings or experts. Smithsonian officials have referred to the deal as a private business contract conducted through private funds. Amid the tight budget environment of recent years, leaders of the Institution have sought increasingly to secure outside funding to maintain quality.
The deal became public knowledge last month. More than 200 historians and filmmakers sent a letter to Smithsonian head Lawrence M. Small protesting the agreement, saying it would discourage independent historical filmmaking. Some researchers at the National Museum of Natural History have also expressed a concern that the deal could make it more difficult for them to receive funding from organizations such as the National Geographic Society, which also often requires a first right of refusal.
Some critics of the agreement point out that the Smithsonian still receives the bulk of its funding from the federal government and should have subjected the Showtime deal to a competitive process and public comment.
On 4 May, members of the House Appropriations subcommittee on Interior, which allocates federal funding to the Smithsonian, demonstrated their concern with the agreement. According to a committee press release, the subcommittee has included language that would prevent the Smithsonian from entering into an agreement that would limit public access to the Institution's holdings.
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