GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s pledge to defund PBS, which he reiterated during the Oct. 3 televised presidential debate, set off a flurry of advocacy activity by pubcasters working at both the national and local levels. PBS had already spent several months developing its ValuePBS.org site, trumpeting the importance of public TV, and sped up its launch to the day after the debate. Stations sprung into action to alert their viewers and listeners, sending waves of them to the grassroots-advocacy 170 Million Americans website — which has since garnered 50,000 new fans. “Thousands of people are coming to our aid,” particularly on Twitter and Facebook, said Pat Butler, president of the Association of Public Television Stations advocacy organization.
NPR, PBS and the Association of Public Television Stations are among broadcast organizations weighing in with the FCC on its April proposal for a change in policy to allow pubcasters to raise money for charities and other nonprofits on the air without first obtaining a waiver. All three are opposed. Other pubcasters filing comments include New England Public Radio and the University Station Alliance, which also oppose the change, and North Carolina’s UNC-TV, which “generally supports” the change. Several religious organizations, including the National Religious Broadcasters, also back the proposal. Joint comments from PBS and APTS, filed Monday (July 23), urge the FCC to limit any rule change to licensees that do not receive a CPB community service grant.
Two of pubcasting’s chief critics on Capitol Hill have revived their bids to end CPB funding. Republican lawmakers Rep. Doug Lamborn (Colo.) and Sen. Jim DeMint (S.C.) circulated letters last week asking colleagues to help them “permanently defund” CPB. They are targeting the $445 million advance-funded appropriation proposed for CPB in 2015. CPB’s requested appropriation “represents no reduction from its prior year appropriation level,” the lawmakers wrote. “While so many Americans are making sacrifices around the country to make ends meet, CPB appears unwilling to do the same.” They said the country is more than $15 trillion in debt, and ending support of CPB “should be one of the easier decisions to make.”
The lawmakers point to compensation of two top pubcasting execs to bolster their political case.
NPR has hired Todd Mundt as editorial director for NPR Digital Services
In his new position, Mundt will help stations develop digital content strategies and oversee news training offered to them. He now serves as v.p. and chief content officer at Louisville Public Media in Kentucky, p.d. of the licensee’s news/talk station and its local host for Morning Edition. Before joining Louisville’s three-station complex, he was director of content and media at Iowa Public Radio, chief content officer for Michigan Public Media in Ann Arbor and host of an NPR-distributed talk program, The Todd Mundt Show. Mundt is chair of the Public Radio Program Directors Association and has served on the Public Media Platform advisory council. Bob Kempf, g.m. of the Boston-based NPR unit, said the hiring completes the Digital Services management team, which also includes Stephanie Miller, director of station relations; Steve Mulder, director of user experience and analytics; Doug Gaff, director of technology; and Keith Hopper, director of product development.
“What a difference a year makes,” Patrick Butler, president of the Association of Public Television Stations, told the crowd at the group’s Public Media Summit on Feb. 27 in Arlington, Va. Last year at this time, the House of Representatives had just voted to eliminate all federal funding for public broadcasting. Since then pubcasters have notched several victories, including protecting the fiscal 2011 appropriation for CPB to $445 million. In recognition of Butler’s performance during his first year, the APTS Board of Trustees gave him an extended standing ovation.
A drop in dues-paying members over the last three years has diminished the resources of the Association of Public Television Stations at an especially critical time for the Washington-based lobbying organization. APTS’ membership has fallen to 75 percent of public TV licensees from a high of 85 percent in 2008. With dues from fewer of the 170-some station licensees, APTS is short about $1 million in annual membership revenue and unable to fill several key positions, including vice presidents for government relations and communication and a regulatory counsel, in a year when the recession, anti-deficit worries and political opposition are bearing down on pubcasting funding. “This is a problem,” APTS President Patrick Butler said in a session at public TV’s National Educational Telecommunications Association Conference last month in Kansas City, Mo. “If we could get to a point where everybody was in this boat and supporting our efforts in Washington, it could have a transformative effect.”
Will Glasscock, an APTS director of government relations, cautioned that “the very challenging environment continues” on Capitol Hill and “the partisan atmosphere has never been quite this bad.” Just last week, GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney said in a USA Today op-ed that if elected, CPB will be one of his targets for “deep reductions in subsidies.”
The situation poses a dilemma: APTS needs resources to fight for federal appropriations on Capitol Hill, which has been one of the most stable sources of revenue during the recession despite the ongoing partisan fights over it.
Memos to public radio stations’ Authorized Representatives (AReps) from NPR and APTS about the Public Media Alliance, a new combined TV and radio lobbying effort, Feb. 15, 2011
From NPR’s chair and president
Fr: Dave Edwards, NPR Board Chair
Vivian Schiller , NPR President & CEO
As you well know in light of this weekend’s news from the House Appropriations Committee, the elimination of federal funding for public broadcasting is a serious threat to the future of over 900 locally run radio stations and 360 television stations — and to the entire public broadcasting economy. To succeed in the face of this challenge we need to make our case forcefully, and use our limited resources wisely. Over the past several weeks, NPR and APTS executives and board members have discussed how we might mount an even stronger advocacy effort. We’ve concluded that our interests and those of the 170 million Americans that rely on public broadcasting each month will be best served by joining forces.
Patrick Butler, public TV’s new chief lobbyist, wrote speeches for President Gerald Ford, was a founder of the Pew Research Center, and helped provide Ken Burns with funding for his acclaimed Civil War documentary series. Butler starts work as president of the Association of Public Television Stations Jan. 1 . The APTS leader has represented major media firms in Washington — the Washington Post Co. for 18 years, and before that Times Mirror Co.
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.