Local public broadcasting leader Don Boswell is concerned about the potential funding cuts the local TV and radio stations he runs would receive from the Corporation of Public Broadcasting.
But not overly concerned. Yet.
It isn’t like it is the first time that Boswell, the chief executive officer and president of the Western New York Public Broadcasting Association (WNYPBA), has seen a Republican administrations threaten to severely cut or eliminate CPB funding.
In an interview Monday, Boswell said the local public broadcasting television and radio stations, including WNED-TV, WBFO-FM and WNED-FM, received $1.736, 000 last year from CPB. He added that represents 11.4 percent of the budget for local public broadcasting TV and radio stations.
He said it would be a big blow if funding ended, a possibility under President Trump and the Republican Congress, according to a report last week from The Hill, which covers politics.
“We would have to do layoffs, big time,” said Boswell. “We would have to let people go. A lot of acquisitions we acquire using that money. We wouldn’t be able to acquire a lot of content.”
How worried is he?
“This is not the first time that it has come up,” said Boswell. “I always have confidence the public will contact the appropriate political representatives and let them know their feelings on what’s happening with the costs and the impact. In the past, we’ve always been blessed that that has always made a difference. So our hope is if we would go to that route again, the public would speak their opinions about the need to save the funds for public TV. But you never really want to think that can always happen."
He added that CPB is funded until 2018, so the impact wouldn't occur until 2019.
It isn’t the first time the Republicans have controlled the presidency and Congress and made noise about ending CPB funding.
“They’ve been in power in the past and we’ve gotten through it,” said Boswell. “The situation resembles a few times in the past where it has come up. I don’t want to act where it is no big deal because it may change, the public may feel different. But in the past, the people has made such a strong stance that they’ve backed off.”
“It has all of us concerned. ... With this administration, it is a whole new day. You have to take every time a new administration comes in to see if you can be successful as you have been in the past.”
The possibility of federal cuts was addressed last week by national PBS head Paula Kerger before the nation’s television critics in Pasadena, Calif. even before the Hill reported it was a real possibility. She said “it was too early to tell.”
“I’ve been in this work for a long time, both in the 11 years that I’ve been at PBS and 13 years before that in public broadcasting,” said Kerger. “And so we have periodically gone through periods where our funding has been at risk.”
Then she explained what CPB means to member stations. It would hurt many other PBS stations much more than WNED.
She said CPB funding through the federal government represents about 15 percent of funding for public television.
“Most of that money goes directly to our stations," said Kerger. "And so the question you didn’t ask, but someone will, is what happens if that goes away? The reason that we fight very hard for that 15 percent is that’s an aggregate number. For some of our stations, a percentage of their budget that represents federal funding is smaller, 7, 9, 10 percent. But for stations particularly in rural parts of the country and in places like Alaska, in particular, the percentage of the station’s budget that is from the federal government represent about 50 percent.
“So we work very hard, particularly our stations at the local level, in talking to legislators about the importance of federal funding, because it enables our content to be accessible to everyone in this country, and it particularly is critical in parts of the country where citizens may not have access to information other ways.”
“And … we care a lot about making sure that our content connects to families, and particularly to kids who are most at risk, and many of those are watching us over the air, and many of them really rely on the services we provide that is made possible by the federal appropriation.
“This is the 50th anniversary this year of the Public Broadcasting Act, so I think it’s a particularly important time to reflect back on the contributions that we’ve made over those 50 years, and I believe that we are the best public/private partnership. For about $1.35 a citizen a year, we provide an extraordinary service, and we leverage that with money that we raise from individuals and partnerships that we build with other media organizations and others to provide the service that we do each and every day.”
A few days after Kerger’s remarks, The Hill, reported that the Trump Administration and the Republican-controlled Congress is “planning “dramatic” budget cuts that would result in privatizing CPB and eliminating the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH).”
Created by Congress a half century ago, CPB gives financial support to a reported 1,500 public TV and radio stations like WNED-TV and WBFO-FM.
CPB reportedly received $445 million in federal funds last year, with the funding for CPB, NEA and NEH reportedly accounting for just 0.02 percent of the federal budget.
Republican administrations have argued for cuts in public broadcasting for decades, partly because they believe it has a liberal agenda. They have often resulted in some funding cuts, but not the drastic action of ending all funding.
However, that possibility has come up time and again. Mitt Romney, the failed 2012 Republican presidential nominee, famously said he loved Big Bird, but that he would cut funding of “Sesame Street” and other PBS programming if elected. House Speaker Paul Ryan, Romney’s running mate, made a 2015 budget proposal that reportedly would have ended subsidies to the CPB, NEA and NEH.
So if the likelihood increases of CPB funding being eliminated, you can expect Big Bird to come back to argue against it.