Two wildly disparate headlines clashed in the same week. On the heels of Inside Radio’s report “NPR Shatters Its Ratings Record“ came Thursday’s “Trump Proposal Would Zero Out Fed’s Public Radio Funding.” Reactions to the President’s budget proposal that would eradicate federal funding for public media have been swift.
Under a $1.1 trillion spending outline released by the White House, the $445 million annual allocation to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting would be completely eliminated. CPB distributes federal dollars to approximately 1,489 local public radio and television stations nationwide. NPR’s grant total is anticipated to be $1.4 million this year, The Wall Street Journal reports, while public radio stations count on CPB funding to help pay their dues in order to be member stations.
“The president rails against ‘fake news,’ but in eliminating the Corporation for Public Broadcasting his budget plan would sever the financial lifeline of scores of public TV and radio stations that are among the most reliable, trusted sources of real news for millions of Americans,” said Michael Copps, a former Democratic commissioner with the FCC from 2001 to 2011.
Added PBS president and CEO Paula Kerger, speaking to the Hollywood Reporter, “The cost of public broadcasting is small, only $1.35 per citizen per year, less than a cup of coffee, and the benefits are tangible: increasing school readiness for kids 2-8, support for teachers and home-schoolers, lifelong learning, public safety communications and civil discourse.”
Kerger predicted a long and difficult road ahead, and adds that public support from constituents may be the only thing that saves critical funding for PBS. “My hope is—as has been the case in prior times when we’ve been under assault—that people will reach out to their legislators,” she said in a story in Billboard.
The Content Creators Coalition (c3) and the Future of Music Coalition called “indefensible, shameful and senseless” the proposal to zero out CPB support and eliminate funding to the National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities. “Many musicians rely on these stations to reach audiences and launch their careers,” the organizations said in a joint statement. “These stations elevate and sustain precious American traditions that corporate broadcasters won’t touch, with a local focus that algorithmic discovery can’t match. Elimination of federal support would be a disaster for musicians and for cultural diversity.”
Added PBS veteran Bill Moyers in a sternly worded Daily Beast story: “This is the first time they’ve tried it when they’ve had one-party rule in Washington….I think [the administration’s] real target is NPR, which is a national broadcast news network with enough gumption to be a threat to the alt-right media.”
As Inside Radio reported March 15, CPB has frequently been targeted by Republican leadership. In the 1990s, House speaker Newt Gingrich tried unsuccessfully to defund the CPB, and President George W. Bush also pushed to eliminate funding. And GOP candidate Mitt Romney sparked headlines during a 2012 presidential debate when he said that while he “loves Big Bird,” he would eliminate funding for PBS.
Notes WSJ, “Public broadcasting has often been a target of conservatives because its programming is accused of having a liberal slant.” Trump’s stance may come in light of a recent report from conservative think-tank The Heritage Foundation that CPB has “outlived its purpose” and that its audience has myriad sources for news and information.
Trump does have his budget supporters—in somewhat surprising places. A Friday opinion piece in The Washington Post from Howard Husock, VP of research and publications at the Manhattan Institute—who serves on the CPB board of directors and was an Emmy-winning public television producer at WGBH Boston—is titled “Public broadcasting shouldn’t get a handout from taxpayers anymore.”
Husock wrote, “If public broadcasters continue to receive federal support, they must start appealing to more than just Blue State America. Public media must demonstrate that it can serve truly diverse audiences in ways the private market can’t. Otherwise, the system’s budget will deserve to be zeroed out.”