US Congress House panel OKs big cut in public broadcasting funds

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Saturday, June 11, 2005

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A House subcommittee voted Thursday to sharply reduce the federal government's financial spending for Fiscal Year '06, including eliminating taxpayer funds that help produce such shows as Sesame Street and Arthur.

The spending cutbacks far exceeded even those requested by the White House. Among initiatives slated for reduction are $39 million for conversion to digital programming and $50 million for upgrading PBS's aging satellite technology.

The subcommittee also acted to eliminate federal money for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a body created by Congress to pass funds on to public broadcasters. The CPB would see a 25 percent reduction in next year's budget, down from $400 million to $300 million, funds that currently account for 14.9% of all public broadcasting revenues[1].

Ideological concerns over publicly-financed content have recently become a point of contention for the Republican-controlled CPB. The day after the new budget was approved, CNN obtained an internal memo by NPR's executive vice president Ken Stern that blamed the cuts on "recent public turbulence caused by CPB chairman Ken Tomlinson's irresponsible attacks on public broadcasting." Stern's memo also told staffers the cut would not hurt NPR directly because it receives little direct support from the CPB. Instead, he emphasized, smaller local stations that rely upon federal dollars are most likely to be affected, which could in turn take a bite out of regular dues and fees, NPR's largest revenue source.

Under the budget, the Ready to Learn program's $23 million appropriation for children's shows is rescinded in its entirety. John Lawson, president of the Association of Public Television Stations, said the cut was retribution for an episode of "Postcards From Buster" featuring a pair of lesbian parents from Vermont. A spokesman for the Appropriations Committee, John Scofield, denied the claim.

"Ready to Learn was one of more than 50 programs terminated in the spending bill," he told the New York Times. "It might be a nice program to do, but not in a flat budget with large budget deficits. We felt the same way about 49 other programs."

Overall, the cuts would signal the most dramatic cutback of public broadcasting since Congress created the CPB in 1967. The spending bill is expected to pass the Appropriations Committee and the House, but final legislation will be negotiated with the Senate.

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