Federal Funding for Public Broadcasting: Q&A

To make your voice heard, visit www.170MillionAmericans.org.


How worried are you about your federal funding? 

We are concerned, but hopeful.

It is clear that our federal government must find ways to tighten the country’s fiscal belt and control government spending, but legislation to eliminate funding for public broadcasting overlooks the critical value that PBS and NPR stations provides to all Americans. Public broadcasters reach over 98% of American households with free services.

We are concerned because federal funding provides vital seed money for public broadcasting stations including Western Reserve PBS. PBS and NPR stations are among the last locally owned and locally operated media services in the country, and federal funding supports our programming and initiatives, which serve every community across the nation.

We are hopeful, however, because public broadcasting has long had the support of the American public and many of the members of Congress who represent them. The majority of citizens place a high value on the services we provide to the nation. For the seventh year in a row, the annual Roper Public Affairs & Media Poll in 2010 found the news programming of public broadcasting to be the most trusted in America, across all ideological and partisan lines. The same Roper Poll finds public broadcasting placing second, just behind national defense, as the most appropriate expenditure of public funds.

Over 170 million Americans — more than half of the entire population of the country — use public broadcasting every month. How many other services receiving federal funds can make that claim? Not many. Public television is America’s largest classroom, the nation’s largest stage for the arts and a trusted window to the world — all at the cost of about $1.35 per person per year.


Do PBS member stations really need the federal appropriation?

Absolutely. For most stations, loss of the federal appropriation would be catastrophic and public broadcasting as we know it would cease to exist.

Locally, federal funding accounts for 18%, or about $900,000, of Western Reserve Public Media’s entire budget. At first glance, that may seem like a relatively small percentage, but with operations as efficient as ours, every dollar counts. We have many fixed expenses and no luxuries, and we operate in a challenging economy. The loss of 18% of total revenue would be very damaging for Western Reserve Public Media.

Federal funding provides vital seed money for PBS’s nearly 360 member stations, supporting public service programming and initiatives, particularly among underserved groups like rural populations who wouldn’t otherwise be able to access what public television stations provide.

And here’s something to keep in mind about how the appropriation is leveraged: for every dollar in federal funding PBS member stations receive, we raise an additional $6 on our own, including contributions from millions of people who voluntarily support our community-based work. So when we call the federal appropriation seed money, we mean it. The small, but vital percentage of our overall budget that comes from a federal appropriation is what forms the foundation upon which we build our capacity to serve our viewers with content and services that educate, inform and inspire.


What are you doing to defend public broadcasting from a de-funding threat?

Local public television and radio stations are asking their viewers and service recipients to communicate with their congressional representatives on this issue. On the broader stage, stations are working closely together with national public broadcasting organizations to make our case to lawmakers on Capitol Hill.


How do you respond to critics who say that public broadcasting is a luxury in today’s budget conscious environment?

What do you lose if the government cuts funding for PBS/member stations? You lose the shows that expanded your mind as a child, the documentaries that opened up new worlds to you as a student, the noncommercialized PBS news programs that keep you informed on world events and cultures and the shows that expose you to the worlds of music, theater, dance and art as an adult.

Cutting CPB funding would save Americans less than half a cent a day, but would cost our community valuable services that many of our citizens depend upon. Eliminating the $445 million investment in CPB would only reduce the $1.5 trillion federal budget deficit by less than 3 ten-thousandths of one percent, but it would have a devastating impact on local communities nationwide.

There’s also the issue of broader economic impact. Without the federal appropriation, a large percentage of stations would find it difficult to continue to do business. The economic impact of shutting down stations across the country would be many times greater than the amount of the federal funding those stations receive. Each of the country’s public television and radio community licensees contributes to its local economy. All stations employ people, of course, but those stations also buy products and services in the communities they serve. Western Reserve Public Media, for instance, spends about $3 million of its $5 million annual budget in Northeast Ohio. 


Are you asking your viewers to get involved?

Yes. Local stations have launched a grassroots effort called 170 Million Americans for Public Broadcasting to give supporters of public television and radio a way to let members of Congress know where they stand.


What will happen if federal funding is lost?

If the government cuts funding to public broadcasting, all citizens would lose access to the content that expands the minds of children, documentaries that open up new worlds, noncommercialized news series that keep citizens informed on world events and programming that brings the arts, music and theater to every community across the country.

We are asking members of Congress to consider this: for the price of $1.35 per American per year, is it worth the loss?

It’s America’s children who will feel the greatest loss. PBS is America’s largest classroom, available to nearly all of America’s children – including those who can’t attend preschool.

  • PBS offers educational media that helps prepare children for success in school and opens up the world to them in an age-appropriate way. 

  • PBS is the #1 source of media content for preschool teachers and the #1 place parents turn to for preschool video online, with content proven to improve critical literacy skills in young children. Without it, teachers and families would lose access to innovative lessons and fun, educational videos that engage young minds.

  • There is a large and growing body of research that proves PBS content helps children learn.

    • A study conducted by the Education Development Center showed that preschool children who participated in a curriculum incorporating PBS KIDS video and games into classroom instruction were better prepared for kindergarten than those who didn’t.

    • According to a study entitled “G Is for Growing,” children who watched SESAME STREET in preschool spend more time reading for fun in high school, and they obtain higher grades in English, math and science. PBS children’s programming teaches important educational and life skills, cultivating and challenging the critical thinkers and innovators of tomorrow.


Is this attack as serious as the one in 1995?

It’s difficult to compare the situations because the political, media and economic landscapes are very different today. But given the economic challenges our country faces, we know that every dollar spent by the government is under serious review. We believe it is appropriate for Congress to review the programs that it funds, and that a thorough analysis will show that the funding of public broadcasting benefits a broad segment of the public that would not be well  served if the funding was eliminated.

We also know that one of the arguments made in 1995 is less true today. Sixteen years ago, with the advent of many new cable channels, those calling for cuts in the funding of public broadcasting stated that there was no longer a need for it, that the marketplace was producing high-quality programming on its own. There is no question that there is some high-quality programming available on cable now, but cable networks follow the dictates of the commercial marketplace. And anyone who is paying attention knows that there is a qualitative difference between PBS’s content and most of the content offered on hundreds of other cable channels.

The best source of noncommercialized, in-depth, free programming on television continues to come from PBS and its member stations.


Given the strong corporate support you have, do you feel federal funding is still necessary?

Yes. It takes a combination of private and public support to makes public broadcasting work; in fact, public broadcasting is an outstanding example of a successful public-private partnership. Federal funding (and in some cases state funding) is combined with financial support from individual members, foundations, corporations, small businesses and others to make the system successful. The federal appropriation is vital seed money that stations leverage to deliver services to the American public, including content that guides children on their explorations and programming that keeps the arts alive today and for generations to come. 


Is public media still relevant in today’s changing environment?

Absolutely. It’s more essential now than ever. In fact, we cannot imagine reaching a point in time at which media content with high credibility, integrity, relevance and depth is no longer necessary.

Digital platforms mean that Americans have more access to media than ever before, which means it’s even more important for there to be a noncommercialized source for content that educates, informs and inspires.


What, if any, conversations have you had with opponents?

We reach out to everyone. Right now we are asking the public to let their opinions be known to their congressional representatives. Visit www.170MillionAmericans.org to connect with your representative.


Western Reserve PBS Feature Program Be More PBS