MIAMI BEACH, Fla. — PBS President Paula Kerger called for local public TV stations and PBS to move beyond their reputations as a “dysfunctional family” to embrace “the power of a collective system” to strengthen their public service. In a keynote speech opening this year’s PBS Annual Meeting, Kerger said public television has reached an important moment in its history — one that she considers to be “the most important moment of my tenure” as PBS president. Kerger pointed to the outpouring of support for public TV when its federal funding came under attack during the fall presidential elections and the international attention and praise that accrued to PBS and stations following the blockbuster Masterpiece Classic hit Downton Abbey. “We have the potential to accomplish great things,” Kerger said.
When every year seems to bring a new round of threats to public media funding, it’s clear that public media isn’t doing a very good job of asserting its value. Maybe its detractors have more money and better lobbyists, but clearly the “Save Big Bird” tactic is only a Band-Aid, and one that’s getting worn out from overuse.
PBS documentary filmmaker Ken Burns, whose extensive credits include The Civil War, Baseball and the upcoming The Dust Bowl, authored an editorial in Tuesday’s USA Today in which he said that Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney “knows the price of things, but he clearly doesn’t know their value.” Romney has attracted the ire of the pubcasting community for frequently stating throughout his campaign that he would cut funding to CPB, and he reiterated his intent to do so during last week’s presidential debate. Burns recalled filming The Civil War in the late 1980s, during which time he visited then-President Ronald Reagan in the White House. At the time, according to Burns, Reagan expressed his support and admiration for both the National Endowment for the Humanities and CPB, two government-funded entities that backed the film. “Reagan put both hands on my shoulder and said, ‘That’s it!
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.