For better or worse, broadcasters of all stripes operate in a highly regulated environment. While we work hard to focus on and reflect life in our local communities, what goes on in Washington, D.C. impacts our work and can significantly affect our ability to serve citizens. Several national developments are underway that are worth watching.
Federal Support for Public Broadcasting
In January, President Obama signed into law the FY 2014 Omnibus Appropriations Act. The bill provides the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) with its FY 2016 advance appropriation and reconfirms CPB’s FY 2014 and FY 2015 appropriations at no-growth levels. The Administration is scheduled to release its FY 2015 budget request to Congress in early March, which will mark the official start of this year’s budget and appropriations cycle. The entire public broadcasting community is hopeful that regular order becomes the new norm in Congress and that essential seed money which supports public radio and television stations, especially in rural communities, does not get caught up in another highly charged political struggle.
Revived Push for Federal Shield Law
Proponents of a federal shield law to protect journalists from having to reveal confidential sources to law enforcement are pushing the Senate to consider legislation that was approved by the Judiciary Committee last September. The Free Flow of Information Act, S. 987, has bipartisan support, but has yet to be considered on the floor of the Senate. With limited time available on the legislative calendar, proponents are seeking to demonstrate that the bill has enough support to overcome a potential filibuster.
Public broadcasting organizations, such as NPR, support the bill so that public radio journalists can continue their work without the threat of being subpoenaed by federal law enforcement authorities.
Forty-eight states and the District of Columbia protect journalists from having to disclose sources, but no such federal protections exist. After languishing for several years, the effort to enact a shield law gained new life following the Obama Administration’s aggressive investigation of intelligence leaks, which involved subpoenaing media organizations’ phone logs and other records. The House has its own version of the legislation, but so far no action has occurred in that chamber.
New Funding for NPR News Initiatives
NPR announced that several major funders contributed a combined $17 million in grants and gifts designed to significantly expand in-depth coverage of news and culture programming over the next two years. NPR will use this support to expand its coverage of three topics: education; global health and development; and race, culture and ethnicity. Building on the success of recent Planet Money and Code Switch projects, NPR plans to cover these topics using multidisciplinary teams of reporters, editors, bloggers, and visual journalists to produce stories that can be heard, read, and seen – expanding their reach and impact. Public radio stations are looking forward to these new initiatives as a catalyst to advance our ongoing effort to reimagine radio by delivering the best of today’s public radio content to audiences no matter how or where they choose to connect with us.
Paul Westhelle | Executive Director, Jefferson Public Radio