Pub­lic broad­cast­ing cuts could put many ru­ral ar­eas in peril

Austin American-Statesman - - VIEWPOINTS - DOUG MATHEWS, AUSTIN JACK STROOBANDT, AUSTIN

As Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump prepares to slash do­mes­tic spend­ing, fund­ing for pub­lic broad­cast­ing is re­port­edly on his list — a hor­ri­ble blow to ru­ral, poverty-stricken com­mu­ni­ties.

In many ru­ral ar­eas, par­tic­u­larly in states that lean Repub­li­can, pub­lic broad­cast­ing sta­tions are the only op­tion for in­for­ma­tion. Res­i­dents of­ten have lim­ited in­ter­net ac­cess or spotty cell­phone ser­vice. Ca­ble might not be a choice.

The Cor­po­ra­tion for Pub­lic Broad­cast­ing, or CPB, pro­vides mil­lions of fed­eral dol­lars each year to 1,500 ra­dio and tele­vi­sion sta­tions in ev­ery state at a cost of $1.35 per tax­payer. Most of those sta­tions de­pend heav­ily on fed­eral fund­ing for at least 22 per­cent of their bud­get — some more than 70 per­cent.

If the fund­ing does get elim­i­nated, those sta­tions might not sur­vive. More than 20,000 jobs would be at risk. This is a big­ger is­sue than the meme that Congress is threat­en­ing Big Bird. Elim­i­nat­ing the CPB could cost lives.

Ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties are vul­ner­a­ble with­out broad­cast in­for­ma­tion. Pub­lic sta­tions send out Am­ber Alerts, the sys­tem that tracks miss­ing chil­dren. They also broad­cast crit­i­cal warn­ings about se­vere weather.

Many sta­tions in states like South Dakota and Alabama serve as Emer­gency Alert Ser­vice hubs, dis­sem­i­nat­ing life-sav­ing in­for­ma­tion.

Dur­ing last year’s dev­as­tat­ing floods, WLPB-TV in Ba­ton Rouge was one of the Louisiana Pub­lic Broad­cast­ing sta­tions pro­vid­ing crit­i­cal in­for­ma­tion that saved lives. Those sta­tions later raised re­lief funds for dam­aged schools.

When Hur­ri­cane Katrina hit in 2005, Mis­sis­sippi pub­lic sta­tions, such as WMAW-FM in Merid­ian ad­vised peo­ple how to pro­tect them­selves. Those sta­tions served as a life­line for wor­ried fam­i­lies across the state.

In West Texas, the pub­lic ra­dio sta­tion in Marfa, KRTS-FM, played a cru­cial role dur­ing the 2011 wild­fires that burned more than 300,000 acres. The sta­tion saved lives by broad­cast­ing where the fire was moving. Po­lice and vol­un­teers called with up­dates. But KRTS de­pends on fed­eral funds for more than 30 per­cent of its rev­enue. With­out it, the sta­tion might dis­ap­pear.

More than 95 per­cent of Amer­ica now has ac­cess to cru­cial emer­gency in­for­ma­tion, par­tially thanks to the CPB.

But there are other ben­e­fits that some politi­cians might not un­der­stand — ne­ces­si­ties that each com­mu­nity de­serves, no mat­ter the size or de­mo­graphic. We have the right to in­for­ma­tion, lo­cal news and un­bi­ased re­port­ing free from the pres­sures of ad­ver­tis­ers.

All com­mu­ni­ties need at least one me­dia out­let ded­i­cated to their town. Pub­lic broad­cast­ing offers a venue for pub­lic dis­course and civil en­gage­ment, which are es­sen­tial tools for a democ­racy. Now they might be at risk.

The most vis­i­ble re­cip­i­ents of CPB funds — PBS and NPR — are of­ten la­beled bas­tions of lib­er­al­ism, sup­ported by tax­payer money. Re­scind­ing fed­eral funds would be a tri­umph for the GOP, but PBS and NPR will sur­vive. Smaller, ru­ral sta­tions might not.

Dur­ing a Repub­li­can se­na­tor’s town hall meet­ing in Arkansas, a 7-year-old boy said that Trump was “delet­ing all the parks and PBS Kids just to make a wall.” In many ru­ral ar­eas, PBS Kids is the only chil­dren’s pro­gram­ming.

Larger pub­lic sta­tions, like those in San Fran­cisco or Bos­ton, have op­por­tu­ni­ties to raise funds or gather spon­sors. Ru­ral sta­tions have a tougher time. Of­ten, their op­er­at­ing costs are higher be­cause they need mul­ti­ple trans­mit­ters to reach far-flung re­gions.

But states where vot­ers fa­vored Trump in Novem­ber are well-funded by the CPB. Florida was given al­most $15 mil­lion in 2014; In­di­ana re­ceived more than $8 mil­lion, and Kentucky more than $6 mil­lion.

Fund­ing for arts pro­grams, in­clud­ing the CPB, is such a small por­tion of the pro­jected bud­get — less than 0.07 per­cent. Trump could end up pun­ish­ing states that need pub­lic broad­cast­ing the most.

By threat­en­ing to slash CPB fund­ing, Trump is fur­ther iso­lat­ing his core con­stituency — a dan­ger to ev­ery com­mu­nity in Amer­ica.

Re: Feb. 16 ar­ti­cle, “Eater­ies clos­ing Thurs­day to protest im­mi­grant crack­down.”

At­ten­tion ICE: You don’t need to sneak around seek­ing out il­le­gal im­mi­grants. Just raid all of the protests scat­tered around town, like at North La­mar Boule­vard and Rund­berg Lane. Round them up, and de­port them. Make note of all busi­nesses that closed for a “Day With­out Im­mi­grants,” then raid these busi­nesses. We want all of our laws en­forced by our mem­bers of law en­force­ment that we are pay­ing our hard-earned tax dol­lars to, not just a few se­lect laws. Shame on you, Sher­iff Sally Her­nan­dez. You do not get to pick and choose which laws you en­force. Do your job, which we tax­pay­ers are pay­ing your salary to do. Re: Feb. 16 let­ter to the ed­i­tor,

What has caused our gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials to be­come so po­lar­ized? It seems that very is­sue is po­lar­ized. This po­lar­iza­tion has pen­e­trated our me­dia and we, as cit­i­zens, do not un­der­stand what is fact and what is fic­tion. What is le­gal and what is il­le­gal. Is it le­gal for gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials mon­i­tor­ing highly sen­si­tive phone con­ver­sa­tions to leak them to the me­dia? When prop­erty is de­stroyed dur­ing protests, is this le­gal or an act of ter­ror­ism? Are we see­ing the rule of rad­i­cals slowly tak­ing con­trol as they did in Europe af­ter World War I? Am I one of a mi­nor­ity that is con­cerned about the money that is in­flu­enc­ing our pol­i­tics to­day? Who can help me un­der­stand why our coun­try is so po­lar­ized and what can we ex­pect for the fu­ture of our coun­try? Will we re­peat the Euro­pean his­tory prior to World War II? Will we de­stroy our coun­try from within?

RODOLFO GON­ZA­LEZ / AUSTIN AMER­I­CAN-STATES­MAN

Bishop Joe S. Vasquez, in his Feb. 15 com­men­tary, called on the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives to “pro­tect the hu­man dig­nity of each per­son in this state.”

Daw­son

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