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Protect PBS; Proposed cuts would hurt programming at local television and radio stations

In their continuing campaign against public broadcasting, congressional Republicans have launched salvos against the type of quality programming the public has grown to appreciate.

The impact of National Public Radio on the country cannot be overstated. Public broadcasting has had a rocky time, of late. Some congressional Republicans have latched on to the recent unfortunate, hidden-camera Internet video release of a top NPR official claiming to a fake prospective donor that it doesn't really need government support.

NPR's Ron Schiller also made equally unfortunate disparaging remarks about Republicans and tea party supporters. He's entitled to his opinion, of course, but one would hope someone in his position would have been more circumspect.

Of course, he'll have more time to replay the scenario because he is no longer with NPR. Neither is NPR's chief executive officer Vivian Schiller, no relation, who also resigned.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., released a statement: "Not only have top Public Broadcasting executives finally admitted that they do not need taxpayer dollars to survive, it is also clear that without federal funds, public broadcasting stations self-admittedly would become eligible for more private dollars on top of the multimillion-dollar donations these organizations already receive."

Where does this leave our local institutions?

The federal government allocates funding to public broadcasting through the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which grants public tax dollars to a variety of entities within the public space, including member stations in the NPR network. The local stations essentially purchase programming from outlets such as NPR and PBS.

The Corporation for Public Broadcasting provided $247,110 to WBFO last year, which has an operating cost of $1.7 million. Therefore, a significant cut to the station would require hefty public donations to make up the difference. If House Republicans get their wishes, it will hurt at the local level.

The most popular programs tend to be the morning and afternoon drive-time news, "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" and weekend network programs, "Wait, Wait Don't Tell Me," "Car Talk," "Fresh Air with Terry Gross" (University at Buffalo alumna) and weekend blues programming. In fact, many of the standard favorites on NPR developed through WBFO alumni.

And while it may go too far to say these programs would disappear, local outlets would certainly have to look at what they pay for.

Such is the case at WNED, where about 12 percent of the total annual operating revenues and grants of $12.6 million for 2009 came from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Programming for WNED-TV and AM-970 broadcast come from either the Public Broadcasting Service or National Public Radio. Granted, other distributors provide some programs, but NPR for radio and PBS for television are the two biggest distributors with the biggest brand-name programs.

Especially in rural areas, congressional Republicans would essentially cut off funding to their own constituents, and that's just not good public policy.

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