$7 Billion, But Whoís Counting?
Media harp on PBS political controversy
but ignore massive government funding of public broadcasting.
June 22, 2005
¬†¬†¬†¬† PBS advocate Bill
Moyers is against subsidies Ė when they go to the wrong people. But
the public broadcasting that airs the show he once hosted rides a $7
billion-plus wave of government funding Ė a fact that media outlets
have omitted in recent coverage of budget wrangling.
ďFavored corporations get their contracts, subsidies and offshore
Moyers said in a political rant on ďNow,Ē a weekly newsmagazine, on
March 26, 2004.
The Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which helps fund Public
Broadcasting Service (PBS), has been subsidized to the tune of more
than $7 billion in federal funds since its charter, and local
stations have received billions more from state and local
governments. But the media are hyping proposed cuts Ė a fraction of
the CPBís budget Ė while ignoring these massive subsidies.
Public broadcasting advocates have taken to their own airwaves and
appeared in the mainstream media begging to be spared from federal
budget cuts. But the media have not checked out the numbers that
advocates are using to make their claims. A Los Angeles Times
headline on June 17, 2005, read, ďPublic Broadcasting Funds May Be
Halved.Ē A closer look at the CPBís budget shows that this is false.
Media coverage of public broadcasting battles has revolved around
the issue of bias. This latest round of the funding fight has the
House of Representatives proposing to cut about $100 million from
the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which funds PBS and
National Public Radio (NPR) stations.
The money at issue in the House vote is just 15.5 percent of CPBís
funding, but thatís only the beginning of how much money they get
from government. According to the CPBís Web site, public funds
actually accounted for 44.4 percent of public broadcastingís $2.3
billion in FY2003. That billion-dollar figure includes money coming
from state and local governments, public colleges and other federal
funds not included in the congressional appropriation. The proposed
cuts amount to about $100 million, which is only 4 percent of CPBís
revenue for FY2003. FY2003 is the most recent year for which CPB has
released detailed numbers on its site.
Yet, spokesmen for public broadcasting claim that the proposed cuts
will have dire consequences, and the media have failed to call them
on the reality of CPBís multibillion-dollar budget.
On CNNís ďDaybreakĒ June 21, 2005, reporter Kelly Wallace said, ďPBS
could face some big time budget cuts if Congress moves ahead with a
proposed slash in funding.Ē She interviewed John Wilson, senior vice
president for programming at PBS, who said the $100 million in
proposed cuts would be ďvery significant to public broadcasting and
will have a tremendous impact on our programming and on our stations
themselves.Ē He said stations in smaller communities could be forced
out of business by the cuts and that programming quality would
Such results are the opposite of what the Competitive Enterprise
Instituteís Braden Cox predicted if public broadcasting decreased or
ended its dependence on government money and embraced the free
ďThere are so many different avenues for consumers to get content,Ē
said Cox, technology counsel for CEI. ďIf you force PBS to rely more
on private funds, they would be forced to provide better content.Ē
The broadcasters should want ďto be liberated,Ē he said.
The CPB, a private nonprofit institution, already receives more than
55 percent of its support from private sources such as individuals,
businesses and foundations. Local television and radio stations
regularly conduct fundraising drives aimed at individuals. Its
latest ad campaign is overtly political, however, urging people to
call their congressmen and lobby for federal funding rather than to
contribute from their own checkbooks. Political conflicts of
interest aside, Cox said it doesnít make good business sense for the
stations to continue a dependence on taxpayer dollars that are
subject to congressional approval.
ďWhy would they still want to be reliant on government funds when
they know it could be cut at any time?Ē Cox said.
David Boaz, executive vice president of the Cato Institute, agreed
that the free market would be a good test of public broadcasting.
ďThese stations have become big businesses, and they brag about
getting only 15 percent of their funding from the government,Ē Boaz
said. If that 15 percent were reduced or taken away, he said, ďmost
[businesses] donít go out of business when that happens.Ē Boaz said
smaller stations, which Lawson said would ďgo dark,Ē would likely be
bought by larger PBS or NPR affiliates.
According to its own Web site, the Corporation for Public
Broadcasting funds more than 1,000 stations reaching ďvirtually
every household in the country.Ē