PBS CEO warns that fed­eral cuts will sink bud­gets of some sta­tions

The Sentinel-Record - - HOT SPRINGS/FYI - LYNN ELBER

BEV­ERLY HILLS, Calif. — The chief ex­ec­u­tive for PBS is sound­ing the alarm about pub­lic broad­cast­ing’s fu­ture if fed­eral fund­ing is axed as called for by Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump.

“PBS will not go away, but a num­ber of our sta­tions will,” CEO Paula Kerger said Sun­day. “There is no Plan B for that.”

PBS’ share of the roughly

$450 mil­lion in fed­eral funds al­lo­cated for pub­lic TV and ra­dio goes largely to sup­port pub­lic TV sta­tions na­tion­wide, a num­ber of which rely on it for up to

50 per­cent of their bud­gets and can’t sur­vive with­out it, Kerger told a TV crit­ics’ meet­ing.

Many of those sta­tions are in ru­ral and un­der­served ar­eas, she said, with res­i­dents who ei­ther don’t have ac­cess to ca­ble or satel­lite or can’t af­ford it and who rely on over-the-air broad­cast­ing.

Kerger, who ad­dressed the is­sue at a TV crit­ics’ meet­ing, said ob­servers have spec­u­lated, hope­fully, that be­cause PBS has sur­vived pre­vi­ous fund­ing threats, ” ‘you’ll be OK, right?’ “

But she’s forced to as­sume that any­thing can hap­pen in what has been “an ex­tra­or­di­nary year on so many lev­els,” Kerger said. “We need to be quite vig­i­lant as Congress de­bates our fund­ing that we don’t as­sume peo­ple re­mem­ber the im­pacts we have on com­mu­ni­ties.”

There’s an irony that this po­ten­tial ex­is­ten­tial cri­sis for some pub­lic TV sta­tions comes as the

50th an­niver­sary of the Pub­lic Broad­cast­ing Act ap­proaches in Novem­ber, Kerger said. The 1967 act cre­ated the Cor­po­ra­tion for Pub­lic Broad­cast­ing, which pro­vides grants to about 1,500 lo­cally owned-and-op­er­ated pub­lic TV and ra­dio sta­tions na­tion­wide.

She’s tak­ing the threat se­ri­ously and that oth­ers in pub­lic me­dia, which in­cludes Na­tional Pub­lic Ra­dio, are link­ing arms “to try to make an ef­fec­tive case” for fed­eral fund­ing, Kerger said. But other voices need to be heard as Congress weighs Trump’s pro­posed spend­ing plan that would trig­ger a move to­ward elim­i­na­tion of all fed­eral sup­port, she said.

At the end of the day, “what leg­is­la­tors most care about is im­pact on their own com­mu­ni­ties,” Kerger said, en­cour­ag­ing peo­ple na­tion­wide who care about pub­lic broad­cast­ing to let their rep­re­sen­ta­tives know.

Trump’s 2018 bud­get pro­posal isn’t the first to try to cut fund­ing for the Cor­po­ra­tion for Pub­lic Broad­cast­ing. But it is the first to also pro­pose gut­ting money for the Na­tional En­dow­ment for the Arts and the Na­tional En­dow­ment for the Hu­man­i­ties.

The three agen­cies com­bined re­ceive about $740 mil­lion an­nu­ally in tax dol­lars. That’s a sliver of the cur­rent $4 tril­lion fed­eral bud­get, But the fed­eral fund­ing for the agen­cies car­ries out­sized im­por­tance in po­lit­i­cal sym­bol­ism and, both sup­port­ers and de­trac­tors say, eco­nomic im­pact be­cause of the pri­vate dol­lars it at­tracts.

Asked about crit­ics who con­sider PBS a fount of lib­er­al­ism that doesn’t war­rant pub­lic funds, Kerger replied that sur­veys con­ducted by Demo­cratic and Repub­li­can poll­sters for PBS found an over­whelm­ing level of sup­port among peo­ple of all po­lit­i­cal stripes for its con­tin­ued fed­eral fund­ing.

The cost works out to about $1.35 per ci­ti­zen per year for pro­gram­ming that can’t be found else­where on TV, Kerger said, in­clud­ing ed­u­ca­tional shows for chil­dren and doc­u­men­taries such as Ken Burns’ up­com­ing doc­u­men­tary se­ries on the Viet­nam War. Other sup­port is pro­vided by pri­vate and cor­po­rate donors

The White House bud­get plan, which em­pha­sizes mil­i­tary and other se­cu­rity-re­lated spend­ing and slashes many do­mes­tic pro­grams, is the first step in a lengthy bud­get process that ul­ti­mately re­quires Con­gres­sional ap­proval.

The As­so­ci­ated Press

SOUND­ING ALARM: Pres­i­dent and CEO Paula Kerger speaks Jan. 15 at the PBS’s Ex­ec­u­tive Ses­sion at the 2017 Tele­vi­sion Crit­ics As­so­ci­a­tion press tour in Pasadena, Calif. Kerger is sound­ing the alarm about pub­lic broad­cast­ing’s fu­ture if fed­eral fund­ing is axed. She said Sun­day that sta­tions de­pen­dent on fed­eral funds couldn’t sur­vive with­out it, in­clud­ing many in ru­ral or un­der­served ar­eas. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump has called for an end to fed­eral money for PBS and Na­tional Pub­lic Ra­dio.

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