Public broadcasting funding under scrutiny

By Alex Veeneman on July 22, 2012

NPR’s headquarters in Washington DC.
(Photo courtesy of Flickr user vivianjeanette)

EDITOR’S NOTE: This post was updated at 1:46pm CT on July 23rd.

Legislation in the House Labor, Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee which includes funding for the public broadcasters PBS and NPR passed 8-6 July 17.

A spokesperson for Congressman Denny Rehberg (R-Montana) confirmed the legislation, which included the elimination of funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, passed. A spokesperson for the committee said that no date had been set, but confirmed it had not been set for this week. If the legislation passes the House, where the Republicans have the majority, it is unlikely that it will pass the Senate, where the Democrats have the majority. A call to the office of Senator Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) was not returned.

In a statement, the president and CEO of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Patricia Harrison, said the action taken by the subcommittee was opposite of what Americans wanted. “This House Labor, HHS, Education Appropriations Bill would clearly begin the elimination of CPB funding. This action is in stark contrast to the overwhelming trust and value the American people place in our country’s public broadcasting service,” Harrison said. “Without the federal investment in public broadcasting, the high-quality content, universal service, and accountability that federal funding has fostered and ensured for the last 45 years would end. The issue of federal funding, and the recommendations in this bill, go directly to whether the United States should have a public broadcasting system.”

In a statement, NPR’s president and CEO Gary Knell said the proposals were troubling. “Over 34 million people rely on public radio stations every week for fact-based, independent news they can trust, for civic and civil dialogue, and for music and cultural programming that can’t be found anywhere else,” Knell said. “By prohibiting stations from using CPB funds to pay for NPR programming like Morning Edition and Car Talk, the Subcommittee is overlooking the big role that our programs play in helping stations to raise private sector funds from listeners and businesses in their communities. This provision would undercut stations’ ongoing efforts to raise funds locally to support expanded local news, information and cultural programming.”

Speaking to the Television Critics Association in Beverly Hills, Paula Kerger, PBS’ president and CEO said it was “disappointing to me when you look at the value the American public places”, according to a report from the Associated Press. Kerger added that it was up to the American people to convey their opinions of public broadcasting to their member of Congress.

In a statement, the president of the Association of Public Television Stations, Patrick Butler, said he was disappointed by the action. “This proposal flies in the face of the will of the American people, who routinely rank public broadcasting as one of the best investments the federal government makes and who overwhelmingly support our work and our public service mission, across the ideological spectrum,” Butler said. “Our total federal funding has been cut by 13 percent over the past two fiscal years, and while this loss of funding has hurt our system significantly, we have never argued that we should be immune to the sacrifice that all Americans are being asked to make to help bring the federal deficit and national debt under control.”

Butler added that this legislation would represent the end of public broadcasting in the United States, and added the Association was working with the House, Senate, and the White House to ensure funding remained secure.

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