House Panel Slashes Funding for Public Broadcasting
House appropriators eliminate funding for childrenâ€™s programming, digital conversion and satellite interconnection of local stations, and make deep cuts to the grants to local public stations and national programming
WASHINGTON â€“ June 9, 2005 â€“ John Lawson, president and CEO of the Association of Public Television Stations (APTS), strongly criticized cuts to federal funding for public broadcasting imposed by the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor-HHS-Education and Related Agencies. The House panel completely eliminated funding for the highly-successful Ready To Learn program, grants for the federally-mandated digital conversion of stations, and funding for the satellite interconnection system that distributes PBS and other programming to local public television stations.
Grants for local station operations and national programming through the Corporation for Public Broadcasting were cut by one-quarter, and advance funding for CPB â€“ which has been the practice for thirty years to protect public broadcasting from political abuse â€“ also was eliminated. Total cuts in federal funding for public television and radio totaled 46 percent.
Lawson said: â€œThe actions of the House subcommittee are nothing less than a direct attack on public television and radio. They are also an attack on some of the last, locally controlled and independent media voices in our country. This is not how a democracy is supposed to run.â€
Lawson noted that the House cuts went much deeper than those proposed by President Bush in the FY 2006 budget that the president submitted to Congress in February. â€œThis constitutes at least malicious wounding, if not outright attempted murder of public broadcasting in America,â€ Lawson said.
Lawson continued: â€œThe proposed elimination of funding for Ready To Learn, a vital educational program that serves tens of millions of American kids, is nothing short of punitive.â€ Ready To Learn is an innovative early learning partnership between PBS, local public television stations and the U.S. Department of Education. Ready To Learn integrates, at no cost to consumers, commercial-free childrenâ€™s educational television and online resources with community outreach to help parents and educators prepare young children for success in school. Award-winning Ready To Learn television programs include Arthur, DragonTales, Clifford, Between the Lions, Reading Rainbow, Sesame Street, Maya & Miguel, and Postcards from Buster.
Lawson continued: â€œIn previous years, the highly successful Ready To Learn program received strong bipartisan support. Even the Bush Administration appreciates the benefits of this program and recommended level funding of $23 million. So, there clearly was no cost-cutting mandate that would justify what the subcommittee did today.â€ Postcards from Buster, a series funded through Ready To Learn, was the subject of controversy earlier this year.
Trina Cutter, President & CEO of PBS 45 & 49 of Kent, Ohio, said: â€œThe Ready To Learn programs and outreach services are educational while at the same time entertaining. Last year PBS 45 & 49 received $25,000 to administer the Ready To Learn program. We used that money to deliver workshops and provide print material to help adults extend the learning from children's shows into reading and hands-on activities. Since 1998, PBS 45 & 49, in cooperation with several childcare agencies throughout northeast Ohio, has presented over 590 workshops reaching over 6,300 teachers and parents who care for over 39,000 children. Will PBS 45 & 49 be harmed if these funds are zeroed out? You bet. But the real losers are the children.â€
Lawson continued: â€œIn addition to targeting Ready To Learn, the subcommittee effectively threatened public broadcastingâ€™s editorial freedom by proposing to rescind $100 million from the advance appropriation the Corporation for Public Broadcasting received in 2004.â€ Since 1976, Congress has used the practice of advance appropriations to provide public broadcasters with the critical lead-time needed to plan and produce programs.
Lawson continued: â€œRescinding $100 million from the FY 2006 CPB appropriation deals a severe blow to stations this year because stations have used the promise of this money to plan their operating budgets and to begin creating new programs. A rescission of this magnitude leaves stations in a severe financial bind. The rescission also sends the message that advance funding is meaningless â€“ as stations cannot rely on promises made one year that can be disregarded the next. Without the ability to rely on advance appropriations, public broadcasters lose an important firewall against political influence in programming decisions.â€
In addition to eliminating funding for Ready To Learn and rescinding $100 million from the FY 2006 CPB appropriation, the House panel proposed no new funding for digital infrastructure and interconnection programs, which received $79 million last year. All of these cuts proposed by the subcommittee would reduce total federal funding for public broadcasting in the Labor-HHS appropriations bill by more than $200 million.
Lawson said: â€œThe cuts, amounting to more than $200 million, are devastating. It is ironic that cuts of this magnitude are proposed at a time when public television stations have been taking the lead in working with Congress to complete the digital transition, bringing potentially billions of dollars in revenue to the government through the auction of the analog spectrum. We have worked in good faith to use our resources to create a new generation of homeland security and educational services. Yet, reckless cuts like the ones proposed today would severely undermine the progress weâ€™ve made and the promise that the digital transition holds for the communities our local stations serve.â€
The attack on public broadcasting isnâ€™t limited to the Labor-HHS appropriations subcommittee, as another House appropriations subcommittee proposed cutting another $21 million in federal support. In late May, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Science, State, Justice, Commerce and Related Agencies panel dealt a serious blow to public broadcasters through the proposed elimination of the Public Telecommunications Facilities Program (PTFP). Lawson said: â€œThe decision to provide no funding for grants under the PTFP program â€“ a cut of effectively $21 million â€“ is a serious blow to a program that has supported public broadcasting for more than 40 years.â€ Although not a large program by federal standards, PTFP plays an indispensable role in providing seed money for infrastructure â€“ attracting many more non-federal dollars, which in turn delivers innovative new programs and services.
Lawson continued: â€œPTFP is to public broadcasters what venture capital markets are to private technology firms: investing in physical capital to increase innovation, productivity and overall quality in the services stations provide. By eliminating this vital program, Congress would effectively undermine the ability of local stations to deliver expanded programming and a new generation of services â€“ including homeland security applications â€“ tailored to the needs of local communities.â€
Lawson concluded, â€œOur stations are not helpless in the face of this funding assault. Recently, APTS launched an aggressive â€˜grasstopsâ€™ mobilization campaign that is public televisionâ€™s largest mobilization since 1995. This campaign is energizing station board members community partners, and other key contacts in reaching out to Members of Congress to solidify congressional support for public television and our funding requests. Our stations have generated more than 2,100 letters sent to 303 Members of Congress to voice our broad-based support. APTS staff delivered these letters to key committees yesterday to make sure they are aware of this. Weâ€™re prepared to go out to station members and the general public for support if necessary.â€
Lawson called on public broadcastingâ€™s bi-partisan supporters in the Senate to restore funding that was cut in the House, as Senators have done in previous years.
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The 284-140 vote demonstrated the enduring political strength of public broadcasting, whose supporters rallied behind popular programs such as "Sesame Street," "Postcards From Buster" and "The NewsHour With Jim Lehrer."
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