Past GOP efforts to defund the Corporation for Public Broadcasting have ultimately been derailed. However, Americans live in a brand new world under President Trump, who has threatened to force public radio and television stations to privatize—or shutter—their operations. This time, the media outlets are renewing their prep to battle.
Station operators have become vocal with their concerns that the President is targeting the CPB for massive budget cuts. The federal government doles out funding to nearly 1,500 stations, according to a story in The Wall Street Journal. Its reporting opens on a dour note: “This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Public Broadcasting Act and the creation of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. But at public radio and television stations across the country, executives aren’t celebrating.”
Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO) introduced bills in January to defund the CPB, while the National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities are also targeted. The White House is expected to circulate a budget outline this week, and CPB funding will be the topic of a congressional hearing on Wednesday. Republican think tank The Heritage Foundation has paraded the notion that CPB has outlived its purpose, because there are now more sources of news and information.
James Paluzzi, who operates Maricopa County Community College news/talk/jazz KJZZ Phoenix (91.5), which counts on the CPB for 9% of its budget responded in the Journal story, “I would ask anybody to tell me where else you get the in-depth journalism that public radio had developed its reputation on.”
As has been widely reported, the CPB received $445 million this fiscal year, a fraction of the approximately $4 trillion federal budget. Among the nation’s 1,489 public radio and TV stations, more than 70% comes in the form of grants.
The amount of money the CPB sends to individual stations varies by market size, but public radio and TV execs nationwide agree—as The Wall Street Journal reports—that without it, “the lights will flicker and in many cases go out.” Patrick Butler, president and CEO of the America’s Public Television Stations, the lobbying arm for noncommercial TV stations, tells the newspaper, “It is essential that we have this federal funding. It’s not something that’s nice to have but we can make it up if we work a little harder.”
Some stations are already working up efforts to rally listeners on-air to reach out to Capitol Hill—and to donate to public stations. “In these uncertain times, it is especially important that every viewer contributes,” Prairie Public Broadcasting in North Dakota told listeners.
“We’re probably making our folks more aware this time, just in case,” said John Harris, president and chief executive of Prairie, which operates nine radio and 10 TV stations. “There is concern with [Trump’s] history with the media that it could come more into the realm of things in consideration.”
However, West Virginia Public Broadcasting announced this week the layoff of 20% of its staff, amounting to 15 full-timers. The state’s Republican governor Jim Justice has already proposed a budget that will slice WVPB’s $4.6 million in funding, which accounts for about 45% of the network’s total budget, as Inside Radio reported Friday morning. GM Scott Finn said, “We know something is coming, and we’re trying to get ahead of it.”
If CPB funding were to be eliminated, it would impact PBS, which supplies programming to public TV stations, and NPR, which does the same for radio. CPB funding can be used by radio stations to pay for NPR programs and cover dues to be a member station. NPR itself typically receives programming or support grants from the CPB—this fiscal year the grant total is expected to be $1.4 million, the Journal says.