PBS Chief on Stakes of Trump Budget Fight: ‘There’s No Plan B.’

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“PBS itself will not go away, but a number of our stations will,” says Paula Kerger, cautioning press about what’s on the line if federal funding is truly yanked.

Without federal funding, many PBS stations will go under.

That was the clear and simple message that PBS president and CEO Paula Kerger tried to drive home with a room full of reporters on Sunday morning. “PBS itself will not go away,” she noted, “but a number of our stations will.”

The last time Kerger addressed the TV press, days before Donald Trump was sworn into office, talk of federal funding was merely speculative. Then PBS was left out of the Trump administration’s first federal budget, the first step in what could prove to be a damning blow to millions of rural Americans who rely on PBS as their lone source of news and educational programming. Since first wind of the proposed cuts, there has been good and bad news for the 47-year-old institution. The House appropriations committee allocated money, but the budget committee did not. It won’t be until August that the matter comes to the Senate.

“I take it very seriously,” said Kerger, acknowledging that she’s the de facto spokesperson for the broad institution. “I have to assume, as all of us in public media can assume, that anything can happen. We need to be quite vigilant that we don’t assume that people remember the impact we have in communities.”

Kerger reminded her audience of that impact at the top of her press conference, reading a letter from a woman without cable or broadband who relies on PBS to help educate her grandchildren.

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When pressed on financials, Kerger outlined the relatively modest numbers in play. PBS costs taxpayers a scant $1.35 a year. Public media, which has seen its state funding hold relatively flat in recent years, gets just $450 million from the federal budget. A third of that goes to NPR, with the rest going to PBS — most of which is divvied up among stations. That pays for, as Kerger put it, “basic operational functions.”Kerger has maintained for some time that fiscally conservative policies pose no legitimate threat to PBS as an institution, instead explaining the cuts will do the most harm to vulnerable affiliates in places such as Alaska and plains states. “For many years there was this misunderstanding that [the money] was going to fund Big Bird,” she said. “It really goes to local stations. If that money goes away, it’s an existential crisis.”

“There’s no plan B,” Kerger added. The loss of federal funding will be a death knell for most any station that draws more than 30 percent of its annual budget from federal funding.

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4 COMMENTS

  1. Good for Trump. Its about time these leftist propaganda public networks started to get off the public trough. PBS. like the CBC here in Canada, need to be sold to private interests, or fade to black and Now!

  2. Agreed. Let the PBS stations sink or swim on their own. If their viewers want to see those stations stay afloat, they can donate what they like, but taxpayers should not be made to pay for what they don’t support. As for the CBC, at the very least, the TV side should be privatized while the radio side should be made into a listener-supported NPR-type setup. In any case, government no longer has a place in the broadcasting business and should get out of it.

  3. Right on Vancouver TVGuy,

    Privatize the tv side, then the private liberal media, which includes Global, City, CTV will then have a even level playing field, and, as for the radio side, considering it comes out on top in the ratings in many many of its stations in cities across Canada. It obviously has loyal following, I just wonder if those loyal listeners would be dedicated in supporting this cross country network out of their personal pockets? Can we take a survey here?

  4. Let me see if I understand some of the comments. If it has a left leaning slant it’s bad but if the media have a right leaning slant then it’s okay and presumably good journalism, Is that what I’m hearing from you guys? Therefore, anything that you don’t agree with gets slagged but if the media share an opinion that you agree with it’s fine.

    That’s not journalism you’re advocating it’s propaganda. “They have an opinion that is contrary to ours. Cut off their funding.” George Orwell would be proud of you.

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