Senate Panel Commits to Fund Public Broadcasting, but Demands Elimination of Perceived Bias

Jul 11, 2005  •  Post A Comment

Public broadcasting won a key commitment Monday for full federal funding in the Senate, but Republican leaders made clear they expect public broadcasters to eliminate what they perceive as political bias in PBS and NPR programming.

The GOP’s messenger was Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, and the venue was a Senate appropriations subcommittee hearing on the Corporation for Public Broadcasting’s federal funding for next year. Sen. Stevens, who said he supports full federal funding for public broadcasting, warned that a recent effort by Republicans in the House to slash public broadcasting’s federal funding had been fueled by a GOP perception that some PBS and NPR programming is biased toward a liberal viewpoint -a perception that the influential lawmaker said he shared.

“The [CPB] board’s problem is to get rid of that [bias on public broadcast programming] and restore the balance that existed in the past in this system,” Sen. Stevens said. “I think [the Senate’s] job is to put money back and convince [GOP leaders in the House] that there has been a wakening call, that the bells have rung and that people have heard the message and we’re all trying to make this system work,” Sen. Stevens said.

In an interview, Kenneth Tomlinson, CPB’s Republican chairman, who testified at the hearing, said Sen. Steven’s remarks offered vindication for his controversial efforts to monitor and document political bias on some public broadcasting shows. “As Sen. Stevens said, let’s have no bias, and if we do have bias on one side, then let’s bring in bias from the other side in common-sense balance,” Mr. Tomlinson said.

Jeff Chester, executive director of the watchdog Center for Digital Democracy, said in response, “The Republicans are going to use the power of the purse to force public broadcasting to toe the line.” The Senate appropriations subcommittee is slated to vote on CPB’s federal funding Tuesday.

Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., who chairs the subcommittee, said content-related amendments to the bill were not expected. In the wake of a controversial publicity campaign by PBS and National Public Radio stations, the House voted late last month to restore $100 million of cuts proposed for CPB’s $400 million budget next year, but declined to provide more than $100 million that public broadcasters want for other programs.