CPB

The Corporation for Public Broadcasting says the federal government spends $1.35 per citizen per year on funding public radio and television. But that funding may be about to evaporate as President Donald Trump proposes eliminating all federal funding to public media in his 2018 budget proposal.

Under the $1.1 trillion spending outline released on Thursday, the White House would zero out the $445 million annual allocation to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. CPB is the not-for-profit that distributes federal dollars to nearly 1,500 local public radio and television stations nationwide. The loss of CPB funding is just part of $18 billion in reductions in federal spending that would offset about half the proposed increases in defense spending. “To keep Americans safe, we have made the tough choices that have been put off for too long,” President Trump said in a statement. “But we have also made the necessary investments that are long overdue.”

CPB president Patricia Harrison says the move would “initially devastate and ultimately destroy” public radio and television’s role in everything from early childhood education to connecting listeners through talk shows in rural and urban communities alike. “There is no viable substitute for federal funding that ensures Americans have universal access to public media’s educational and informational programming and services,” she said in a statement.

Harrison and America’s Public Television Stations (APTS) president Patrick Butler also point out that public radio and TV stations play a critical role in the Emergency Alert System by distributing warning messages across large parts of the country where few commercial stations reach. “The Government Accountability Office found that there is no substitute for federal funding in the provision of these services to everyone, everywhere, every day, for free,” Butler said.

The CPB has been successful in the past when threats to public media funding took hold in Washington by enlisting iconic images such as Big Bird to convince members of Congress on both sides of the political aisle to restore the dollars to the federal budget. Harrison says they’ll use a similar game plan this time. “Viewers and listeners appreciate that public media is non-commercial and available for free to all Americans,” she said. “We will work with the new administration and Congress in raising awareness that elimination of federal funding to CPB begins the collapse of the public media system itself and the end of this essential national service.”

They also point to an American Viewpoint-Hart Research survey which found two-thirds of those who voted for President Trump support either maintaining or increasing public television funding. Among those questioned, more than eight in ten said they had had public safety concerns if those stations went dark.

“Poll after poll shows that NPR and PBS are the most trusted sources for news and information,” Free Press president Craig Aaron said. While the move to cut CPB funding had been expected, he says the plan to silence NPR and PBS stations was “ill-advised” since tens of millions of people rely upon public media every day. “Public and community media are treasured local institutions that are far more popular than Congress or this president—as they will soon be reminded,” he says.