Mississippi legislature wants to cut funding to state public broadcaster by 2024

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A budget that includes a clause to end state funding for Mississippi Public Broadcasting as of 2024 is headed to the governor’s desk.

The budget also gives MPB level funding of $6.1 million for fiscal year 2019. State support made up about 57 percent of MPB’s budget in fiscal year 2018.

MPB Executive Director Ronnie Agnew said the state-operated network will work with its supporters in the legislature to reverse the provision if Gov. Phil Bryant approves it. “Public broadcasting is not going anywhere in Mississippi, and we will remain a state agency,” Agnew said. “We have too many friends, too many people who support us, who see this as a major treasure.”

MPB has already endured several consecutive years of cuts in state support. It lost nearly $1 million in funding in fiscal year 2017, which Agnew said at the time returned state funding to 2006 levels. An additional cut of 12 percent came in FY2018.

MPB has heeded the state legislature’s call to raise more funds by reconstituting its foundation, promoting underwriting and increasing individual donations, Agnew said. “But there is no way MPB could ever be self-sufficient to the tune of six to $8 million a year,” he said.

Several lawmakers who supported the clause to defund MPB did not respond to Current’s request for comment. A state senator who opposed the defunding tweeted about his concerns.

Sen. John Horhn, a Democrat, said that he voted against the appropriation because of the provision to defund MPB, which he said serves a vital public interest in delivering news and public and cultural affairs programming.

“It just doesn’t make sense to me that we would establish a policy of this kind which essentially says we want to destroy this valuable asset,” Horhn said.

“The same kind of attack that we saw against the National Endowment for the Arts fifteen, 20 years ago is what we’re seeing now against public broadcasting,” Horhn said. “And I think that many in the conservative arm of our community see public broadcasting as a tool of the liberal establishment, which I don’t agree with. I think so many people see it that way, and for that reason they want to attack it and eliminate it.”

This story has been updated with Sen. Horhn’s comments.

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