Congress created the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) in 1968 to promote the growth and development of public media throughout the U.S. Over the last four and a half decades, CPB has been the steward of federal funding, which goes directly to over 1,400 public television and radio stations across the country, supporting 21,000 local jobs.
Public broadcasting – whether it’s TV or radio – provides free, high-quality educational content to our children, in-depth news coverage from across the globe, and is one of the last remaining providers of locally produced and focused programming.
Though famous for Sesame Street, Ken Burns, and The News Hour, public broadcasting is about much more. From the innovative Ready to Learn program, putting free educational content and effective tools into the hands of our teachers, to maintaining the infrastructure for the AMBER alert system that works even when wireless voice and data services collapse, our public broadcasting system plays an important role for all of us. We receive all of this for less than $1.50 per American each year, with local stations leveraging each federal dollar to raise six more.
The Facts: Public Broadcasting is Bipartisan and Valued by All
- Public broadcasting has the support of more than 170 million Americans – Republicans, Democrats, and Independents – who tune in or listen every month.
- More than six in ten voters who believe deficit reduction is an important goal also support funding for public broadcasting.
- Ninety-two percent of Democrats favor the same amount – or more – government funding of PBS, as do 75% of Independents, and 67% of Republicans when told that PBS/public television stations receive about 15% of their funding from the federal government.
- Public broadcasting was ranked second by the American public, only behind funding for our national defense, as providing excellent value for their tax dollars.
- Public broadcasting is America’s most trusted institution. In fact, American voters have twice the level of trust in public broadcasting as they do in our Courts of Law.
It’s Rural and Small Town America that will be Hurt
Big cities would still be able to sustain public broadcasting stations, albeit with reduced programming, if federal funding were eliminated. But for many stations in rural and small town America, it would be an impossible task to close the gap between the federal support they currently receive and private contributions. Providing public broadcasting services to Burns, Oregon costs eleven times as much as what it costs to reach Portland, Oregon.
Lakeland Public Television in Bemidji, Minnesota is the only local broadcaster in most of its service area. In Colorado, Rocky Mountain PBS is the public media resource for all Coloradans. Both rely on CPB funding for about 30% of their annual budget, what local contributions could not cover if CPBs budget was eliminated.
There are No Alternatives to Federal Funding
In 2012, Republicans demanded a study on alternatives to federal funding for public broadcasting. Well, that study is in, and found that there is no viable alternative to funding the public broadcasting system. The report found:
- None of the evaluated alternative sources of revenue would generate enough net revenue to replace federal funding, and there is no combination of alternative sources of funding that together could replace the federal appropriation.
- Moving to a commercial advertising model on public television and radio would result in a net loss in revenues.
- Public radio and television stations in many localities would struggle to survive without federal funding, particularly those stations serving rural and underserved areas with the least potential to earn additional revenue.
- Public broadcasting’s format of in-depth coverage, locally tailored content, and educational programming focused on teaching our children (not selling them something) cannot survive without federal money. If it could, a similar, commercially funded station would already exist, given public broadcasting’s large and growing audience.
A call for the elimination of federal funding shows a fundamental inability to understand that commercializing public media would drastically change its essential nature. Why turn the nation's best forum for sustained public discourse into a carbon copy of all the other programming? People turn to public broadcasting because they already have 500 channels with nothing to watch.
Blumenauer: Defender of Public Broadcasting
Congressman Blumenauer is a long-time champion of public broadcasting, founding the Public Broadcasting Caucus in the 106th Congress to ensure the continued services of local public television and radio stations and has led efforts to preserve public broadcasting against partisan attacks and has fended off bills aimed at defunding public broadcasting. In 2011, he won both the Champion of Public Broadcasting Award from American Public Television Stations (APTS) and the Lowell Award from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) for extraordinary efforts in public broadcasting, leadership at the national level, and education and professional development.
Blumenauer believes that without continued federal support, public broadcasting would lose its unique character that so many enjoy and have come to depend on and trust, and that the public broadcasting format of in-depth coverage cannot survive without federal seed money. If it could, a similar, commercially funded station would already exist, given public broadcasting’s large and growing audience. He is also deeply concerned about the impact of reduced funding for public broadcasting stations in rural communities. Federal support is critical to the survival of these small community radio stations.