GOP Calls for End to CPB Funding

Sep 26, 2005  •  Post A Comment

Threatening to yank public broadcasting’s federal purse strings, House Republicans last week proposed to eliminate federal funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting as part of an initiative to help the government pay for the mammoth recovery costs associated with Hurricane Katrina.

“Congress must ensure that a catastrophe of nature does not become a catastrophe of debt for our children and grandchildren,” said Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., chairman of the House Republican Study Committee.

The committee, representing more than 100 conservative GOP lawmakers, recommended in a report last week that public broadcasters be required to pitch in for relief-by forgoing the $400 million federal appropriation that CPB is expecting to receive in fiscal 2006.

Permanently zeroing out CPB, which funnels federal funds to public radio and TV stations, would save the federal government more than $5.5 billion over the next 10 years, according to the GOP group.

The need for public broadcasting, however, is as evident as ever in the wake of the natural disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, however, said Michael Levy, a CPB spokesman.

“If there ever was a time that reinforces the extraordinary value and need for public television and radio, it is now,” Mr. Levy said. “Public broadcasting again demonstrated its worth many times over by serving as a lifeline to those struggling to survive Katrina and rebuild their lives in its aftermath. Locally owned, locally controlled public broadcasters know their communities. And the public knows that in good times or bad, it can depend on public broadcasting to serve the public interest, whether through high-quality educational programming or with life-saving information.”

The proposal came during a particularly good week for PBS in terms of awards. The network won 10 Primetime Emmys, including the award for outstanding miniseries. The broadcaster also won six News and Documentary Emmys, more than any other network for the fifth year in a row.

As of late last week, the committee’s recommendation for CPB-included in a massive package of proposed cuts for dozens of federal programs-had not been publicly embraced by House Republican leaders. “We still haven’t discussed any specific proposals,” said a spokesman for House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas.

But the proposal comes at a particularly sensitive time for public broadcasting.

In the wake of a major on-air publicity campaign by public broadcast stations, the House earlier this year restored $100 million that had been proposed to be cut from CPB’s $400 million budget next year, but declined to provide the more than $100 million public broadcasters wanted for other programs.

A Senate committee subsequently voted to leave the $400 million intact, and to provide much of the additional funding public broadcasters had been seeking, including $35 million for digital TV conversion and $40 million to beef up public broadcasting’s interconnection system. In addition, the Senate committee also provided $25 million of the $32 million public broadcasters wanted to fund children’s TV shows such as “Sesame Street” and “Postcards From Buster.”

The full Senate has yet to vote on public broadcasting’s appropriations. In addition, assuming Senate approval, the appropriations bill must still be approved by a conference committee of leaders in the Senate and the House. So the new search by House lawmakers to find ways to underwrite the massive recovery costs for Hurricane Katrina has undermined the security of public broadcasting’s federal funding.

“We take it as a serious threat,” said John Lawson, president and CEO of the Association of Public Television Stations.

“If there’s an across-the-board cut to domestic programs, we will do our part,” Mr. Lawson added. “But we will fight any attempt to target CPB funding for deep cuts or elimination.”

In a speech to the Media Institute in Washington last week, Ken Tomlinson, CPB’s outgoing chairman, insisted that the contribution that public broadcasting makes to educational programming makes the case for continued funding by government.

“There’s ample justification for public broadcasting,” Mr. Tomlinson said.

But his critics accuse Mr. Tomlinson of having undermined CPB’s case with his Republican colleagues on Capitol Hill by blasting PBS and NPR as tax-supported bastions for liberal ideologues.

“The irony is that Tomlinson has made CPB a target for the budget ax,” said Jeff Chester, executive director of the watchdog Center for Digital Democracy.

Demanded ‘Balance’

In his swan song speech as CPB chairman last week, Mr. Tomlinson insisted that he had never tried to eliminate public broadcasting shows that he believes exhibit a liberal bias.

“I demanded political balance in public broadcasting, and there are people in this town who would see me pay for this sin,” Mr. Tomlinson said.

“In the end, if I threatened the cozy atmosphere of public broadcasting over the failure to balance the liberal advocacy journalism of Bill Moyers, my answer is, so be it.

“This thing of balance is not rocket science, and that is why I had so little tolerance for public broadcasting’s inability to achieve balance,” he said. “Let the record show that, if I was frustrated, I gave as good as I got.”

Mr. Tomlinson also said he thought that public broadcasting should focus on improving education-based programming for children.

“I am highly skeptical of so-called nonpartisanship in public broadcasting, because it seems to me that means the same old liberals making the same old decisions,” he said. “But I do strongly believe in bipartisanship in public broadcasting, and Republicans and Democrats and conservatives and liberals should join together to support education-based children’s programming.”

In response to requests from leading Democratic lawmakers, CPB’s inspector general is investigating the propriety of Mr. Tomlinson’s efforts to study political bias and his hiring of lobbyists to influence legislation he opposed that would have forced CPB’s board to include station representatives. In addition, the inspector general is investigating whether CPB inappropriately cut corners earlier this year to hire Patricia Harrison as CPB’s president-the candidate that Mr. Tomlinson allegedly favored.

The inspector general’s report had been expected to be released as early as this month, but sources said it now isn’t expected to be released until early November.