Talks between public broadcasters and independent producers over increased funding for a new independents' production fund seemed to have reached an impasse as Current went to press Monday night.
But Capitol Hill aides anxious to move federal funding bills forward reportedly have taken a more active role in recent weeks to push the two sides to resolve the difficult political and financial issue.
According to a variety of people close to the discussions, public broadcasting officials have suggested a sort of independents' programming consortium, to be funded at about $3 million a year. Sources say the independents have proposed investing up to $18 million in a quasi-separate fund that could be administered by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. The corporation is a private, federally chartered corporation that serves as both distributor and watchdog for the approximately $214 million the federal government has allotted for public broadcasting.
Hill aides reportedly also have suggested several different funding levels, without obtaining agreement of the two groups.
Sources say the two sides came to an impasse over these financial differences in closed door meetings held on Friday, April 29  at CPB headquarters in Washington. The discussions, the second in as many weeks, began Thursday afternoon, extended into the evening and the following day before breaking off.
Resolving the issue is crucial because failure may delay action on legislation pending in the House and the Senate that would reauthorize federal funding for public TV and radio at greatly increased levels beginning in fiscal 1991. Both the House and Senate versions of the authorizing bill provide $304 million in fiscal 1991, plus $200 million to replace public broadcasting's aging satellite system.
House labor appropriations subcommittee Chairman Rep. William Natcher and other subcommittee members warned public broadcasters in an April 19 hearing that the committee would not appropriate any federal money without an authorization bill.
Public broadcasting executives have complained that the new fund could jeopardize CPB's ability to provide funding for some of public TV's major series. Industry officials also worry that these demands could open a Pandora's box of requests for other, restricted funding pools.
The independent produces say that CPB has provided them with an insufficient level of funding. They complained at Senate and House hearings on funding earlier this year, prompting Congressmen and their aides to encourage the two sides to reconcile their differences.
Representing independent producers in the most recent talks were independent advocate and lobbyist Larry Hall and Larry Sapadin, co-chair of the National Coalition of Independent Public Broadcasting Producers and executive director of the Association of Independents in Video and Film.
A number of Washington public broadcasting executives have participated in the discussions over the past few months, including National Association of Public Television Stations President David Brugger, CPB President Donald Ledwig, Acting Senior Vice President Gene Katt, General Counsel Paul Symczak, Public Broadcasting Service President Bruce Christensen and other PBS executives.
A variety of House and Senate staffers have also gotten involved in the discussions in one form or another.
No new meeting date has been set.
Web page posted April 13, 2004
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