In four years that include the deepening recession, fiscal 2008 through 2012, public broadcasting stations in 24 states have lost a total of $85 million in financial support from state governments, according to a study released last week by Free Press, a progressive media-reform group. Those states reduced spending on public media by 42 percent of their 2008 amount. Free Press, which has joined the defense of federal and state aid to public media, gave the study a timely release date, one week before the congressional Super Committee’s Nov. 23  deadline to cut vast sums from the federal budget and deficit. “As federal lawmakers are considering making further cuts to public broadcasting nationally, we wanted to make sure they understood the full picture of public broadcasting in their states,” said Josh Stearns, co-author of the study and associate program director of Free Press.
The broadcast decision that embroiled Arkansas ETV in a landmark First Amendment struggle ever since 1992 was “a reasonable, viewpoint-neutral exercise of journalistic discretion,” the Supreme Court ruled May 18. The high court’s 6-3 ruling overturned an Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals decision in 1996 that the state network had infringed House candidate Ralph P. Forbes’ free-speech rights by refusing to add him to the two major-party nominees in a broadcast debate more than five years ago. “This is a great decision for viewers,” and will let the network continue airing candidate debates, said Susan Howarth, executive director of the five-transmitter state network, according to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. “The majority opinion gives us as much or more than we thought we would win in our most optimistic moments,” said the elated Richard D. Marks, attorney for Arkansas ETV. Marks had pictured the Circuit Court’s 1996 decision as “a grave threat” to state-owned pubcasters that could undercut their ability to make editorial judgments.