Bills to defund public broadcasting, or at least any radio network that fired Juan Williams, are beginning to seem like a real threat since the Nov. 2 midterm election gave Republicans a 60-plus majority in the House and a mandate to take huge bites out of federal spending. Last week the co-chairmen of President Obama’s National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform — assigned to suggest ways to reduce the $13.7 trillion deficit — advised dropping CPB from the budget, along with some vastly bigger federal expenditures that have even sturdier support in Congress (separate story). For conservative talking heads, ending aid to pubcasting would be a high-profile get-tough symbol. And for liberals, giving up CPB could be an attempt to avoid other more widely unpopular cuts.
NPR President Vivian Schiller’s remarks near the end of NPR Board meeting, Nov. 12, 2010. Over the last three weeks, I’ve heard from a lot of people — we all have — challenging what NPR is, what it does, and why we’re here. We’ve heard assaults on our programming, and on our objectivity. We’ve read some critical listener letters and comments posted on NPR.org and elsewhere.
NPR President Vivian Schiller dispatched this apology Sunday evening, Oct. 24 , six days after the network set off a pre-election political firestorm with its firing of news analyst Juan Williams. She stands by the decision but not the way it was handled. Dear Program Colleagues,
I want to apologize for not doing a better job of handling the termination of our relationship with news analyst Juan Williams. While we stand firmly behind that decision, I regret that we did not take the time to prepare our program partners and provide you with the tools to cope with the fallout from this episode. I know you all felt the reverberations and are on the front lines every day responding to your listeners and talking to the public. This was a decision of principle, made to protect NPR’s integrity and values as a news organization.
What public broadcasting can do to plan for its own future and for federal policies that serve the public interest
In the first part of this commentary in Current Oct. 4 , Wick Rowland, an early PBS planner and now a station leader in Colorado, said that public broadcasting’s failure to put time and money into formal research and planning has left it “adrift, mute and helpless” on the periphery of federal policymaking about media and spectrum. Pubcasting was slow to respond to the journalism crisis, aloof from the Obama administration’s big commitment to give the public universal access to broadband Internet service.In Part 2 he suggests how the system could equip itself to develop a more coherent, visionary agenda for its own future and the nation’s media policies. The commentary is available as two PDFs: Part 1 and Part 2. At this extraordinary moment, when so many outside observers and critics are simultaneously trying to define a national agenda for public media — when we should be confidently helping to guide those debates — we seem unprepared for the task.
Why everyone but public broadcasters is making federal policy for public media
The FCC’s recent National Broadband Plan and its Future of the Media initiative have highlighted a chronic problem in U.S public broadcasting: The system has no long-term policy planning capacity, and therefore it always has had great difficulty dealing with the periodic efforts by outsiders to critique and “reform” it. Public broadcasting ignores most media policy research, whether it originates in academia, think tanks or federal agencies, and it often seems out of touch with major national policy deliberations until too late. That disengagement is highly dangerous because it allows others to set the national legal and regulatory agenda for communications without assuring adequate policy attention to public-service, noncommercial and educational goals. Such policy initiatives also can negatively affect the funding and operating conditions of every public licensee. This article, the first of two, examines the history and recent serious consequences of that disengagement.
In 1981, Congress significantly restricted the Corporation for Public Broadcasting’s decision-making on spending, funneling fixed percentages of CPB’s federal appropriation to specific spending categories and types of grantees. Before then, CPB had faced repeated struggles, including a rift between TV and radio. In 1981, Congress imposed a formula proposed by Rep. Tim Wirth (D-Colo.), then chair of the House telecommunications subcommittee. The 75-25 split between TV and radio was based on experience. Robben Fleming, then president of CPB, complained that the formula “emasculates” CPB, and his successors periodically have objected to their loss of discretion over spending.
ARTICLE I. BASIC POLICY
It is the basic policy of the corporation to be noncommercial, educational, nonsectarian and nonpartisan. The corporation shall operate for the mutual benefit of noncommercial radio stations, organizations and individuals serving the public radio community, and carry on activities as a business league exempt from federal income tax pursuant to Section 501(c)(6) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1954, as amended. ARTICLE II. MEMBERSHIP
The Ford Foundation was noncommercial television’s first big funder, years before Congress contributed large sums — supporting efforts to acquire reserved channels, helping to start stations in major cities, and backing National Educational Television, the system’s major production and distribution organization in its early years.
Public Law 90-129, 90th Congress, November 7, 1967 (as amended to April 26, 1968)
This law was enacted less than 10 months after the report of the Carnegie Commission on Educational Broadcasting. The act initiates federal aid to the operation (as opposed to funding capital facilities) of public broadcasting. Provisions include:
extend authorization of the earlier Educational Television Facilities Act,
forbid educational broadcasting stations to editorialize or support or oppose political candidates,
establish the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and defines its board,
defines its purposes,
authorize reduced telecommunications rates for its interconnection,
authorize appropriations to CPB, and
authorize a federal study of instructional television and radio.
Title I—Construction of Facilities
Extension of duration of construction grants for educational broadcasting