Public Broadcasting Could Lose Half its Government Funding

The US House of Representatives will vote as early as tomorrow on legislation that would cut federal funding to public broadcasting by 46 percent. This would entail a $100 million cut to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), a nonprofit that distributes government funds to individual PBS and NPR stations. According to the Los Angeles Times, the cuts would also affect PBS-produced programs, such as “Reading Rainbow,” “Sesame Street” and “NewsHour with Jim Lehrer.” These cuts could spell financial disaster for small or rural public broadcasting stations.

The possible cuts coincide with a number of other challenges for public broadcasting, as the Republican chairman of CPB’s board of directors is under investigation, and the board is considering candidates for the position of CPB president. Kenneth Tomlinson, chairman of the CPB board, has made allegations of liberal bias in public broadcasting a cornerstone of his tenure, even hiring a consultant to monitor the content of “Now with Bill Moyers” for possible bias. According to the New York Times, this consultant was hired without the knowledge of the rest of the board, and has had strong ties to conservative organizations in the past. Tomlinson and the contract are currently being investigated by the CPB inspector general, and over the weekend, Tomlinson received a letter from Senators, Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY), Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ), and Byron L. Norgan (D-ND) expressing their concern about Tomlinson’s actions, and about his decision to remain on the board while under investigation. Yesterday, Senator Lautenberg called for Tomlinson’s resignation, reports the New York Times, which Tomlinson refused to consider. Also on Monday, the CPB board met to discuss presidential candidates, with Tomlinson supporting Patricia Harrison, who has no public broadcasting experience and is a former co-chair of the Republican National Committee.

In the midst of this controversy over political bias, public broadcasting stations are seeing a drop-off in their traditional supporters, many of whom worry that the CPB is imposing a Republican viewpoint on stations, and has abandoned its position as a politically neutral organization. The Washington Post reports that Mary G.F. Bitterman, chairwoman of the board of PBS, sent Tomlinson a letter stating that stations are concerned about “the damage being done to public broadcasting’s independence by the application of partisan political pressure.”

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Los Angeles Times 6/17/05; New York Times 6/17/05, 6/21/ 05; Washington Post 6/18/05

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