Oversight board suggests privatizing Puerto Rico pubcaster

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An oversight board tasked with assisting Puerto Rico’s government with managing its finances is recommending transferring ownership of the Puerto Rico Public Broadcasting Corporation from the commonwealth to a private nonprofit.

The corporation operates two TV stations, WIPR in San Juan and WIPM in Mayagüez, as well as WIPR-FM and WIPR-AM in San Juan.

The Financial Oversight and Management Board for Puerto Rico said in a letter to government leaders Friday that while it recognizes the value of the corporation’s public-interest programming, transferring ownership “can provide increased growth opportunities, enhance the programming offering provided to the people of Puerto Rico, and save the Government money.”

The oversight board was created by a 2016 law that provided a framework to help restructure Puerto Rico’s debt. Among its tasks is to make recommendations to promote the government’s financial stability and economic growth.

The board pointed out that many public media organizations are owned by nonprofit entities like universities and foundations and are supported by federal, local and private funds.

“The Corporation should similarly be independently owned and operated, while also shielded from political interests,” the letter said. “The Oversight Board supports public broadcasting but the resources to finance the Corporation as a private non-profit can and should come from outside the Government so that the Government can prioritize its spending on the services it is uniquely best-positioned to provide.”

The board also argued for transferring ownership because “most states provide limited or no funding to public broadcasting corporations,” the letter said. “States that do provide funding to public broadcasting corporations, provide a significantly lower percentage of the public broadcasting corporation’s total operating budget.” (Thirty-six U.S. states provide funding for public broadcasting.)

PRPBC received nearly $12 million from the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico in fiscal year 2017, according to tax documents, which made up more than 70 percent of its total revenue. It experienced a net loss of nearly $4 million.

Representatives of PRPBC have not responded to Current’s request for comment.

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