Fundraising pitches by House Speaker Newt Gingrich drew unprecedented media coverage and helped to boost March pledge receipts at WPBA, Atlanta, home-town public TV station for the powerful Georgia Republican who has vowed to end federal aid for public broadcasting. Gingrich taped a series of spots urging national and local viewers to “open your wallets” and support public television. “Tell them Newt Gingrich asked you to help make sure that PBS stays on the air and Channel 30 stays strong because more than ever it’s going to need our support as individuals to make sure it has the funding it needs,” the congressman said in a self-scripted 45-second message for Atlanta viewers. Late last week, only a handful of stations elsewhere had begun to use national versions of the spots in their on-air campaigns. WCET, Cincinnati, reported that viewers had responded negatively to its use of the pitch.
Public broadcasting’s response to a detailed inquiry by Sen. Larry Pressler (R-S.D.) arrived on Capitol Hill the evening of Feb. 10, accompanied by three boxes of supporting material. All but one of the major national organizations submitted responses to the Senate Commerce Committee chairman’s 16-page, single-spaced questionnaire, which included more than 200 questions about the field’s financing, program policies and interrelationships [earlier story]. Pressler earlier had withdrawn some of his queries about political contributions by public broadcasting employees and personal data on NPR staffers. CPB said collecting the information by the senator’s deadline cost $92,000 for staff time, legal fees and copying.
Three polls taken last month gave majorities of 62 to 84 percent favoring CPB’s federal funding. Then, a few days later, comes one showing the public 63 percent okaying cutbacks. Why such a flip-flop? “Question wording can move poll results very drastically,” replies John Brennan, polling director at the Los Angeles Times, which published the fourth poll. In the first three polls, the questions about CPB appropriations simply asked whether the funding should be continued or eliminated or, in the case of PBS’s own commissioned poll, whether it should be increased, maintained or decreased.
When public broadcasters awoke on Jan. 23 , they saw the headlines and their heads started spinning. Newspapers reported that Bell Atlantic [later renamed Verizon] was interested in a partnership with CPB “that would have the Baby Bell step into the funding role now played by the federal government,” as the Wall Street Journal put it. That news came from Sen. Larry Pressler who revealed on CBS’s Face the Nation that the company and other telecom firms were interested in buying or partnering with public broadcasting after Congress privatizes it. To people who thought they understood media economics, it made no sense.
An inquiry by Sen. Larry Pressler last week put public broadcasters on notice that they face hostile scrutiny during Senate consideration of CPB’s reauthorization. The South Dakota senator’s office sent a 16-page, single-spaced questionnaire to CPB and other major pubcasting organizations seeking a myriad details about the field’s finances and program policies, as well as the political contributions of those working within the field and personal data about all members of NPR’s staff. [Later article on the responses.]
Pressler later withdrew a handful of the more than 200 questions after CPB Chairman Henry Cauthen advised him that answering them would violate individuals’ rights to privacy. People for the American Way also criticized Pressler’s inquiry as a attempt to “chill political speech … not seen since the era of Sen. Joseph McCarthy.”
With the warning that public television must “reinvent itself” if it is to “meet the needs of the American public in the 21st century,” a task force appointed by the Twentieth Century Fund recommended fundamental restructuring of the existing public television system in a report issued [in July 1993]. [Task force members included former PBS President Lawrence Grossman; Ervin Duggan, soon to be appointed to head PBS later in 1993; and other prominent national-level figures in media and finance.]
Completing what task force members characterized as a reexamination of the basic purpose and principles of public broadcasting on the 25th anniversary of the field’s creation, the 21-member group envisioned a significant role for public television in the multichannel environment of the future — one that calls for an expansion of educational programming, strengthening of its mission at all levels, and a redirection of federal funds toward diversified national programming. Most controversial among the panel’s recommendations is a proposal to cut off federal funding to local stations within three years and aggregate those dollars for national programs.
“A feeling of ‘entitlement” is rampant within the system,” wrote Richard Somerset-Ward. “There are 351 local stations to be accommodated, and they (or their 175 licensees who receive [grants] from the CPB each year) effectively hold most of the purse strings.” That would mean the end of the Community Service Grants (CSGs) to public TV stations, which consumed half of CPB’s federal appropriation in 1992 and amount to 13.5 percent of the public TV system’s total income, according to the report.
A scholar working with the right-wing Heritage Foundation is looking into ways to improve public TV, privatizing it if necessary. Laurence Jarvik, a new Ph.D. from the University of California at Los Angeles, made his Washington debut
With support building for federal aid to public TV, the advocates of public radio found they had to act quickly to make their case. National Educational Radio, a division of the National Association of Educational Broadcasters, hired Herman W. Land Associates to study the field and its potential. The resulting book, The Hidden Medium: A Status Report on Educational Radio in the United States, was published in April 1967. Overview and Summary
The oldest of the electronic media, going back in service to experimental beginnings as station 9xm in the year 1919, educational radio, almost a half century later, remains virtually unknown as a communications force in its own right. Overshadowed first by commercial radio, then by television, it has suffered long neglect arising from disinterest and apathy among the educational administrators who control much of its fortunes.
Sen. Warren G. Magnuson (D-Wash.), then chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, laid out the case for federal aid to public broadcasting in this report published a month before the creation of the Carnegie Commission on Educational Television. The senator entered the report in the Congressional Record as an “extension of remarks” for Oct. 22, 1965. Little more than two years later, President Johnson had signed the Public Broadcasting Act. Mr. President, in 1962 the Congress enacted the Educational Television Facilities Act which made it possible for direct Federal support for educational television stations. Since 1962 grants have been made under the formula set forth in the Educational Television Facilities Act on a matching basis for the development of new stations and for the expansion of existing facilities.