CPB’s financial analysis on alternative funding sources for public broadcasting, prepared by consultants at Booz & Co. and delivered to Congress in June, has had little impact on lawmakers’ views about continuation of CPB’s annual federal appropriation to date, CPB staff reported during a Sept. 10 board meeting in Washington, D.C.
In the report, analysts for Booz examined a range of options for replacing CPB’s federal aid — from selling commercial advertising to tapping spectrum auction proceeds or selling pay-channel subscriptions, among others. They concluded that withdrawal of federal aid would have a “cascading debilitating effect,” starting first with stations serving rural areas and ultimately leading to collapse of the public broadcasting system. The dire predictions haven’t made much difference in swaying lawmakers on Capitol Hill, CPB’s government affairs staff reported to the board. “I think it’s fair to say that in the past two-and-a-half months there’s been a little change in the conversation regarding funding for public broadcasting, and the idea of commercials,” said Michael Levy, CPB executive vice president. CPB staff have been meeting with key Republicans and Democrats on the House and Senate appropriations committees to discuss why a purely commercial model for public broadcasting is not a viable option. The Booz analysis predicted that public TV could earn more revenue from commercial advertising sales than it now does from underwriting, but the switch to ads would prompt a large portion of those who provide private support to the field — individual donors, foundations and underwriters — to withdraw their support, resulting in a net revenue loss.
Public broadcasters face multiple and serious uncertainties on Capitol Hill over the next few months. A spending bill approved by the House subcommittee with oversight of CPB’s appropriation proposes to phase out CPB funding over the next three years; it includes language restricting public radio stations from spending their CPB aid to support NPR in any way. Another election-season threat comes from GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, who has repeatedly cited CPB as one of five agencies he’d extinguish. Sequestration, a byproduct of Congress’s inability to reach consensus on debt-reduction measures last summer, could also hit pubcasting, slicing 8 percent or more from the $445 million in federal funding that pubcasters anticipate for 2013. If sequestration occurs, the government could opt to hold back part of CPB’s 2013 appropriation — a move that would trigger a reduction in stations’ Community Service Grants.
Two of pubcasting’s chief critics on Capitol Hill have revived their bids to end CPB funding. Republican lawmakers Rep. Doug Lamborn (Colo.) and Sen. Jim DeMint (S.C.) circulated letters last week asking colleagues to help them “permanently defund” CPB. They are targeting the $445 million advance-funded appropriation proposed for CPB in 2015. CPB’s requested appropriation “represents no reduction from its prior year appropriation level,” the lawmakers wrote. “While so many Americans are making sacrifices around the country to make ends meet, CPB appears unwilling to do the same.” They said the country is more than $15 trillion in debt, and ending support of CPB “should be one of the easier decisions to make.”
The lawmakers point to compensation of two top pubcasting execs to bolster their political case.
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.