Roasting Big Bird (and NPR)
In the first Presidential debate of 2012, Governor Mitt Romney said that he would end federal funding for public broadcasting.
Such a step would be a game changer for stations like JPR, which relies on federal support as a critical component of the diverse funding sources that enable us to serve our listeners. To be clear, federal funding amounts to about 13% of JPR’s annual budget. But, that amount is an absolutely essential element of our ability to operate, equaling roughly the amount we raise each year from both our fall and spring on-air membership drives.
Public broadcasting is not—and should not be—a partisan issue. The federal investment in public broadcasting is strongly supported by Americans across the political spectrum. A 2011 national survey by the bipartisan polling firms of Hart Research and American Viewpoint reveals that more than two-thirds of American voters (69%) oppose proposals to eliminate government funding of public broadcasting, with Americans across the political spectrum against such a cut—including 83% of Democrats, 69% of Independents, and 56% of Republicans. And, a 2012 Harris Interactive poll shows that Americans consider PBS to be the second most valuable use of public funds, behind only national defense. Federal funding for public broadcasting amounts to just $1.35 per American, per year— an amount that is roughly one one-hundredth of one percent of the federal budget. Getting rid of it would have almost no impact on the nation’s debt, but the loss to communities across the country — especially rural communities like those served by JPR — would be devastating.
Federal support of public radio and television is one of the most successful examples of the public-private partnerships lauded by leaders of all political stripes. Every year, the vast majority of federal funding goes directly to local stations in local communities around the country. And, for every federal dollar received by stations, local communities kick in another six non-federal dollars. Here in Southern Oregon and Northern California that number is even higher.
Each day, the American public receives an enduring and daily return on its investment that is heard, seen and experienced on public radio and television stations across the country. Every month more than 170 million Americans—over half the U.S. population—rely on public broadcasting services. In a typical week, NPR and its member stations reach nearly 1 out of every 7 U.S. adults, an audience that exceeds the combined circulation of the top 64 national newspapers.
Federal funding would be virtually impossible for the public broadcasting community to replace. Earlier this year, at the request of Congress, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) submitted a report on the viability of developing alternative sources of funding for public broadcasting stations in lieu of federal funding. CPB engaged a well-known national consulting firm to conduct research for the report as a way to ensure objectivity. After extensive analysis, the report concludes that none of the alternative sources of revenue offers a realistic opportunity to generate revenue that could replace federal funding through CPB. It also concludes that there is no combination of alternative sources of funding that together could replace the federal appropriation. Other studies, including one authored by the Government Accountability Office in 2007, offered similar findings.
During these challenging economic times, every program and function of government will be, and should be, scrutinized. And, every program must do its part. Indeed, during the past two years, the federal investment in public broadcasting has already been reduced by $57.5 million—the equivalent of a 13% cut in current funding levels.
We hope Governor Romney’s remarks inspire a lively, fact-based national debate on the value and efficacy of federal funding for public broadcasting. And, we urge listeners to share their views on this issue with their elected representatives.