Is public broadcasting’s $445 million subsidy really a “tiny federal investment”?

posted at 6:05 pm on May 18, 2012 by Rob Bluey

NPR, PBS and other public broadcasting outlets are asking taxpayers to fork over $445 million in funding for the next fiscal year. But not if Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) and Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO) have anything to say about it.

The conservative lawmakers want to defund the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the steward of the federal government’s “investment” in public radio and TV. Congress created CPB in 1967, and DeMint and Lamborn think it’s time to cut it off from the federal trough. Their move comes as the agency prepares to report to Congress how it could operate without a federal subsidy.

“While so many Americans are making sacrifices around the country to make ends meet, CPB appears unwilling to do the same,” DeMint and Lamborn wrote in a letter to Senate and House appropriators. “Now is the appropriate and necessary time for the government to end taxpayer subsidies for CPB.”

Liberals are fighting back to keep the money flowing. The special-interest group Free Press, which advocates for greater government control over media and the Internet, claims the federal subsidy is necessary to save public-broadcasting jobs.

This tiny federal investment is vital to helping support programming that commercial media won’t showcase and provides an important foundation for stations around the country to build on.

DeMint and Lamborn don’t consider it such a “tiny federal investment,” particularly given the rapid growth of public broadcasting’s federal subsidy in the past decade. Writing on DeMint’s new Pickpocket blog, Amanda Carpenter noted:

Even though media has become more accessible than ever, funding for CPB has exploded. Between 2001 and 2012, the CPB’s appropriated funding escalated by nearly 31 percent, from $340 million to $444.1 million.

This, of course, isn’t the first time public broadcasting faced a fight over its federal subsidy. Previous attempts to cut off funding came in the wake of Juan Williams’ firing from NPR and James O’Keefe’s exposé of an NPR executive’s disparaging remarks about conservatives and Tea Party activists. The funding cut was also part of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s YouCut initiative.

The O’Keefe exposé also revealed that NRP’s own senior vice president for fundraising admitted that NPR “would be better off in the long run without federal funding.” More than a year later, the American people are still on the hook.

Rob Bluey directs the Center for Media and Public Policy, an investigative journalism operation at The Heritage Foundation. Follow him on Twitter: @RobertBluey


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