There was no shortage of ideas for keeping Capitol News Connection afloat. CNC’s stock in trade was chasing down politicians for local legislators’ take on the day’s developments in Congress. Before it was shuttered in September, public radio’s little nonprofit news bureau on Capitol Hill tried expanding into online news reporting, revising fees, selling localized coverage of Congress to newspapers and TV stations as well as pubradio, and developing widgets and apps to boost its income. As founder and CEO Melinda Wittstock worked relentlessly against recession economics to save the cash-strapped newsroom, she turned to a dot-org hope. Her conception for NewsIt, a crowdsourced social-media news platform, was perhaps her biggest idea to date.
Last time, in 2005, the emissary to Congress was Clifford the Big Red Dog. This time, it’s an aardvark named Arthur. Last time, lawmakers showed off boxes of 1 million petitions with signatures; now, the million signatures are digital. Back then, when the Republican-led House Appropriations Committee tried for a 25 percent cut in the CPB appropriation, public support moved the House to save it by a 2-to-1 vote. This year, no such luck.
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
The scene: a small conference room of the Senate Committee on Commerce, late on a February afternoon. The players: a senior committee staffer and her longtime acquaintance, a public broadcasting general manager. The author is president of Colorado Public Television (KBDI) in Denver. Illustration: Elene Usdin. ‘Well, the bastards have you right where they want you!” growled the aide, barely looking up from her papers spread across the conference table.
Congress doesn’t work that way, said Wilbur Mills, the formidable chair of the House Ways and Means Committee in the late 1960s. Bill Moyers, then a young aide to President Johnson, recalled the upshot of the Public Broadcasting Act: Congress created CPB but left it without a dedicated revenue source, destined to lobby unceasingly for annual appropriations. This account is excerpted from Moyers’ speech to the PBS Showcase Conference in May 2006. (The full text of the speech is also on this site.)
… When he signed it, the President said that the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967 “announces to the world that our nation wants more than just material wealth; our nation wants more than ‘a chicken in every pot.’ We in America have an appetite for excellence, too….
A week of rallies, petitions, public service announcements and entreaties to Congress persuaded the House of Representatives to restore the $400 million appropriation for next year that Congress advance-funded two years ago.
The House and Senate resolved last-minute differences over public broadcasting’s fiscal 1991-93 authorization bill and late last week passed the three-year, $800 million measure. The bill also makes a variety of other changes, including requiring the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to collaborate with the public TV system to develop a new plan for distributing CPB’s national TV production money. The bill also requires CPB to establish a $6 million-a-year fund for independent productions. The Senate passed an earlier version of the bill October 7, but when it reached the House telecommunications subcommittee, Chairman Edward Markey objected to language requiring CPB to seek private funding to replace public broadcasting’s aging satellite program delivery system. Both sides agreed to a diluted directive for CPB to submit a report to Congress on the “availability of private sector rather than federal financing.” The House and Senate also agreed to postpone until October 1, 1989, a requirement that CPB devote its interest income to pro÷ gramming and provide producers with “grants” instead of “contracts.”
With these final hurdles cleared, the House passed the bill without comment about 5 p.m. Wednesday.
Having emerged from the first 100 days of the 104th Congress with most of its advance funding intact, public broadcasting is entering the most crucial stage in renegotiating its relationship with the lawmakers. Rep. Jack Fields (R-Tex.), chairman of the House telecommunications subcommittee, moved up the schedule for that stage in an April 5 meeting with top pubcasters, asking them to submit by the end of the month their plans for replacing the annual CPB appropriations that congressional Republicans want to eliminate. The Senate, meanwhile, declined to accept House leadership, voting April 6 to continue CPB funding at this year’s $285.6 million level for the next two years. CPB funding was one of the major sticking points that delayed final action on the Senate bill, as conservative Republicans sought bigger cuts and Democrats pushed for smaller ones. The legislation goes next to a House-Senate conference committee, which will have to hammer out substantial differences in the two chambers’ proposed cuts for CPB and other programs. (The conference will be scheduled after the House returns from recess May 1; the Senate returns a week earlier.)
While substantial CPB funding for fiscal years 1996 and 1997 seems likely, the big question is now whether the field will receive any federal aid at all in 1998 and beyond.