President Lyndon Johnson formalized federal support for public broadcasting with the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967. It created the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, or CPB, as a government sponsored corporation to distribute federal funds to public broadcast stations.
CPB’s mission is to ensure that all Americans have universal access to non-commercial, high quality broadcast services. To ensure that all public stations could operate independently from political influence, President Gerald Ford pushed for an advance funding formula so that funds are appropriated two years in advance. Funding for the FY19 cycle is approved in FY17.
The investment of federal dollars into non-commercial broadcasting allows public radio stations like WUWM 89.7 FM - Milwaukee Public Radio to serve its community and provide programming, such as in-depth journalism, that is less common on for-profit stations. In some rural areas of this country, the local public radio station may be their only source of free news, public affairs and cultural programming.
CPB also helps secure the infrastructure for nation-wide program distribution via satellite and other means. CPB is also able to negotiate music rights for all public stations. Larger stations typically use federal dollars to leverage additional local support. On average, one dollar of federal funding helps stations raise over six dollars from their local communities.
WUWM received $259,728 in FY16 from CPB. This money allows the station to fund a significant portion of its local programming. For example, the annual budget for Lake Effect, WUWM’s daily news magazine is $267,000.
Through the years, WUWM has proven its capability to explore significant community issues from economic development to segregation. In addition to daily issue-oriented journalism, the station also has special reporting initiatives focusing on education, race and ethnicity, the environment and the arts. Federal funding often serves as seed money to help launch special projects until the station is able to secure longer-term funding from private sources.
Losing federal support would have a noticeable effect on the ability of WUWM to sustain much of our local journalism. We could also lose our satellite connect to NPR and the BBC.
WHAT IS BEING PROPOSED?
In January, The Hill reported that the Trump administration planned on eliminating funding for CPB along with the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. It was suggested that CPB would be ‘privatized’, although the meaning of that remains unclear.
Brietbart.com and other conservative-leaning publications have accused public media of having a left-wing bias. Breitbart’s Chriss Street said this about public broadcasting and the Trump agenda: “They (the public) want the type of tax cuts and infrastructure spending that will put back the 'chicken in every pot.' Many see little or no benefit in continued federal spending on elitist public broadcasting.”
On January 31, 2017, Congressman Doug Lamborn (R-Colorado) introduced legislation to defund CPB:
Republicans and the new Administration need to demonstrate that we take our fiscal responsibility seriously. American taxpayers do not want their hard-earned dollars funding superfluous government programs just because that is the way things have always been done. With the national debt nearing a staggering $20 trillion, the government cannot continue to subsidize private organizations that are more than capable of being fully privately-funded.
Despite noting that, “This is not about content, as CPB certainly airs some quality programs," Lamborn’s bill would prohibit public radio stations from using federal funds to purchase programming and/or pay dues to NPR.
There is a common belief that such legislation would ‘kill’ NPR. However, larger stations could continue to use community funding to purchase programming from NPR. But, smaller stations who rely on CPB funding for a majority of their funding who would not stop airing NPR programming, but may have to go off the air completely. This loss of revenue would hamper their ability to gather news from around the world.
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
Whether you support federal funding or not, you should let your Congressional representatives know your opinion.
Supporters of federal funding should visit and register at: www.protectmypublicmedia.org. This collaborative effort of public broadcasters will provide the latest updates on this issue and provide suggestions on how you can help.