Trumping Public Media


Originally published in MediaPowerMonitor.

Executive Orders, staffing choices, unusual foreign policy moves, interesting “facts”, and numerous related tweets have dominated recent news about the new U.S. president and his administration. Perhaps that is why little attention has been given to the signs that the Trump administration will most likely cut funding for Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) and National Public Radio (NPR).

A few stories emerged mid-January, prompted by this article in The Hill, referring to the budget suggestions by the Heritage Foundation. It is rumoured that Trump will follow these closely. This is what the Foundation’s so called Budget Book says about the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), the umbrella organization channelling funds for PBS ad NPR:

“Privatize public broadcasting. Save taxpayers US $4.5bn.

The CPB made up only US$ 444m, or 16%, of this amount. Without federal funding for the CPB, services such as PBS and NPR, which receive funding from the CPB, could make up the lost money by increasing revenues from corporate sponsors, foundations and members.  The goal of CPB is also increasingly met by other media sources.”

The Republicans have traditionally used public broadcasting as fuel for political debates. Unsurprisingly, Republican and pro-Trump news outlets have celebrated the idea of budget savings and invoked the claim about the enormous diversity of content choices on cable TV. Also, some throw in arguments that the federal government is currently funding biased news coverage by NPR — and this must stop.

Bias is a difficult question to verify. But, as Salon reports, 95% of the U.S. population can access public broadcasting’s over-the-air signal as part of its universal service mandate. This includes rural communities and economically disadvantaged viewers who cannot afford to pay for cable TV. In addition, NPR has been at the forefront of digital innovation — and it shows in audience ratings: NPR stations have outperformed many of their commercial news counterparts. It also remains the number one Podcast publisher in America. To put the proposed savings in context: the share of CPB of the federal budget is reportedly 0.01%.

Regardless, the plans of trumping public media are now moving forward. At the end of January 2017, Republican congressman Doug Lamborn introduced two bills: firstly to defund the CPB; and, secondly, to prohibit NPR from receiving funds from CPB, or public radio stations from using federal funds to purchase programming from and/or pay dues to NPR.

Photo: Ted Eyton

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