The $1.3 trillion omnibus appropriations law pushed through Congress last week gave the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) reason to cheer. While the Trump administration had sought to wind down all its taxpayer dollars over the next couple of years, CPB was in actuality allotted a new $445 million appropriation in the final bill. An additional $20 million was directed to upgrades for the public broadcasting interconnection system.
Patricia Harrison, president and CEO of the CPB, welcomed the new appropriations and declared, “The funds stewarded by CPB enable public media stations to play an essential role in public safety and civic leadership as well as in providing trusted local journalism, high-quality educational programming and local services to communities throughout the nation—rural, small town and urban communities alike.” She said the appropriation will enable its grantees, which are primarily to PBS and NPR stations, to “continue to tell America’s diverse story.”
Congress appears not to have been convinced by the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) premise that CPB provides only about 15 percent total funds for public broadcasters and “private fundraising has proven durable, negating the need for continued federal subsidies.” OMB had also argued, “[A]lternatives to PBS and NPR programming have grown substantially since CPB was first established in 1967, greatly reducing the need for publicly funded programming options.”
Congress did include restrictions, however. Among several limitations in the omnibus, one states CPB’s taxpayer money cannot “be available or used to aid or support any program or activity from which any person is excluded, or is denied benefits, or is discriminated against, on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, or sex.” This is not a new limitation as it has been in previous bills. It is notable though that CPB states in its documents that content “that furthers the principles of particular political or religious philosophies” is not “CPB-Qualified Programming” for potential grantees.
NRB president & CEO Dr. Jerry A. Johnson remarked, “The question of whether the government should be in the domestic media business at all is a worthwhile consideration, particularly given the explosion of media options since the days of President Lyndon Johnson. However, if the government is going to supply grant money for societally enriching programming, Congress should be sure its agent is not favoring those with a secularist ‘progressive’ agenda at the expense of faith-based ministries critical to local communities.”
Of note, in a 2010 filing with the FCC during its “Future of Media” proceeding, NRB proposed the government not “super-fund public broadcasting, as such increased funding would create government-funded competition against all other broadcasters, including Christian nonprofit, non-commercial stations.”
By Aaron Mercer, Vice President of Government Relations
Published: March 29, 2018