Funding Public Broadcasting

Funding Public Broadcasting
What does the GOP have against Big Bird?

The Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) has been in existence for more than 40 years. Since its creation in 1967, CPB, through the Public Broadcasting System (PBS) and National Public Radio (NPR), has provided quality programming free of commercial interruption. It has also been at the top of the Republican's hit list and subject to vilification and budget cuts.

It wasn't always that way.

The CPB was created by the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967. At the bill signing President Johnson remarked:

"The Corporation will assist stations and producers who aim for the best in broadcasting good music, in broadcasting exciting plays, and in broadcasting reports on the whole fascinating range of human activity. It will try to prove that what educates can also be exciting.

It will get part of its support from our Government. But it will be carefully guarded from Government or from party control. It will be free, and it will be independent--and it will belong to all of our people." (President Johnston's remarks on this Act are well worth reading and can be found at CPB's website. I swear he predicts the internet.)

A lot has changed since 1967. The generations that grew up on Sesame Street can now choose from hundreds of television and radio stations (for better or worse) to get their news and entertainment. Yet even in the morass of media overload, PBS and NPR continue to provide unique programming options.

Public television and radio offers something missing from much of the mainstream media – a different opinion. Americans like to believe they are well informed, but without news and opinions from sources outside the United States (like BBC World News) we only get part of the story.

Besides news programs, public broadcasting offers excellent children's shows, concerts and other live performances, documentaries, and shows about scientific discovery and exploration; not a bad deal for $1.00 per person.

CPB receives $420M in federal appropriations, most of that (close to $376M) goes to local public television and radio stations, and grants to create programming (see CPB's website for more details). Each local station receives a different allocation depending on need. Some stations receive less than 5% of their funding from CPB, while others receive more than 50%.

Local stations must also raise private and corporate monies to stay in business. Anyone who has experienced a funding drive knows that PBS and NPR can successfully hustle a buck. As a result, NPR gets 32.1% of its budget from individual donors, 21.1% from business donors and just 5.8% from federal, state, and local governments. (See However, its fundraising success is often regionally based and depends on the affluence of a particular market.

Individuals on the right argue that NPR should lose its funding because of its "liberal bias." According to a survey conducted by The Pew Research Center for People and the Press, 22 % of NPR listeners describe themselves as conservative, 45% moderate, and 29 % liberal. Among the general public those numbers are 36% conservative, 37% moderates, and 19% liberal. The programming appeals to more moderate or liberal Americans, but there are conservatives listening as well.

Some conservatives dislike the content of shows broadcast by PBS and NPR. That does not mean the information provided is false or intentionally misleading. Liberal leaning does not mean untrue. Claims that this type of programming doesn't interest, or worse offends the American public are false. The public broadcasting audience is growing, up 56% in the top markets since 1998. According to NPR's website, they broadcast to 27.2 M weekly listeners at 900 member stations and host 12.4 M online visitors.

Given the US's $14 trillion budget deficit and the fundraising prowess of some member stations, it is reasonable to question the need for federal funding. There is not a dime to spare in the federal budget and every line item should be considered for reductions. But zero funding for public broadcasting is shortsighted and unreasonable.

It is unlikely that PBS and NPR stations in large markets, with affluent listeners, will have trouble raising enough money to fill the gaps left by budget cuts. The concern is for stations in smaller markets where broadcasting options are limited. Those stations receive a greater percentage of federal funds and are less likely to make up the loss through private or corporate fundraising campaigns.

Regardless of what happens in Washington, PBS and NPR won't cease to exist. Most American kids will still get to sing "C is for Cookie" with Cookie Monster, or dance along with Elmo. But some won't have that opportunity because of budget cuts, and that's a shame.

What can you do? Contact your Member of Congress and ask him/her to opposing zero funding of CPB, PBS, and NPR. Then open your wallet or purse and become a member of your local PBS or NPR station. Not only will you help keep local stations on-air, you'll also get a nifty tote bag to carry your stuff.

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