Public Broadcasters' Tightrope Over Funds
By LORNE MANLY
Published: June 23, 2005
"The Brian Lehrer Show" decided to tackle a topic this week that could hardly be knottier for its radio station, devoting about an hour on Monday to the battle over a possible cut in federal funds for public broadcasters like its own station, WNYC.
About a quarter of the way through the program's coverage, Mr. Lehrer went to a break. On came a promotional spot with Laura Walker, the WNYC president and chief executive, explaining how a bill approved by the House Appropriations Committee could severely cut into the station's annual operating revenue and programming.
When he returned to the show, Mr. Lehrer seemed a bit surprised by the spot that had been broadcast. Chuckling a little, he told listeners, "It's just a coincidence it came up now, actually." Then he turned to the first of two station presidents to discuss how the financing cut could affect their operations - Ms. Walker of WNYC.
That jarring juxtaposition of news programming and self-interested promotion exemplifies the fine line that public broadcasters are walking as they mobilize to combat threats to their financing. It is always a delicate task for a news organization to cover itself. But when the organization in question is financed in part by the government, when the news centers on the prospects for that money and when a station floods its airwaves with spots urging viewers or listeners to contact their Congressional representatives, the undertaking becomes much more challenging.
Public television and radio stations began their outreach efforts to their viewers and listeners last week, after a House subcommittee first approved a measure that would cut funds by about $100 million (25 percent) to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which funnels money from Congress to public television and radio. The measure also calls for the elimination of more than $100 million from funds devoted to helping stations convert to digital programming and upgrade satellite technology, as well as the "Ready to Learn" program, which provides money for children's shows like "Clifford the Big Red Dog."
Proposed Cuts to Public Broadcasting Budget
Last updated: June 24, 2005
We hope the following will answer your questions about public broadcasting funding:
What budget is at stake?
The most significant budget affected is that of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), the organization created by Congress to administer federal funds to help support public radio and television programming, stations, community service, educational projects and technology. Additionally, there is separate, smaller fund for public broadcasting technical projects administered through the Department of Commerce.
What has happened to date?
In early June, in an unanticipated move, a House of Representatives Appropriations subcommittee recommended cutting $190 million from CPB's budget for fiscal year 2006, which begins this coming October. This was subsequently approved by the full House Appropriations Committee.
On June 23, however, when the recommendation came to the floor vote before the full House of Representatives, an amendment to restore $90 million of the cut was introduced by David Obey (D-WI), Jim Leach (R-IA), and Nita Lowey (D-NY). This amendment was voted on and passed with strong bipartisan support: the vote of 284-140 included 87 Republicans and 197 Democrats.
What happens next - and what does this mean now for the public broadcasting budget?
This most recent vote was a major step forward, but restores only half the budget lost through the original subcommittee recommendation. The process to regain the full funding continues as the Senate begins its own review of the budget - commonly referred to as a "mark-up" - beginning July 12.
The Senate will finalize its recommendations in the coming weeks and hopefully will seek to restore the rest of the cuts. When this process is finished, leaders of the House and Senate will meet to negotiate the final budget.
Why is this happening now if the fiscal year 2006 budget was in place?
The Administration has put intense pressure on the Congress to deal with the federal deficit by reducing federal spending, although the House Appropriations Subcommittee and full Committee chose to go beyond the proposed Administration recommendations for public broadcasting cuts.
What does the public think about public broadcasting funding?
According to recent print and electronic media coverage of the CPB budget cut situation, there has been significant public opinion directed to members of Congress encouraging the restoration of full funding for public radio and television.
A 2003 poll taken by CPB showed that Americans strongly support public broadcasting and believe it is worth federal funding. The CPB report determined:
"An overwhelming number of adults in this country (80%) say that they have a favorable impression of PBS and NPR as a whole. Additionally, there are several indicators throughout the survey that demonstrate the extent to which the public values public broadcasting. For example, only 1-in-10 Americans (10%) would say that a per capita expenditure of $1.30 in taxpayer funds is 'too much' for the government to be spending on public broadcasting. Nearly half (48%) say the amount is 'too little' and roughly 1/3 (35%) say the amount is 'about right.'"
Looks like you're in that bottom 10% group, Baldimo.
You've got a lot of people to work over.
Don't give them a damn thing, Baldimo. Pledge week, ignore them. Mail campaigns, pitch them into the trash. You can do that. Free country.