Five states propose ending support of public television

Right-wing politics and tough economic conditions have combined to threaten public television systems in at least seven states—including North and South Carolina, Rhode Island, Oklahoma, Idaho, Kansas and Maine.

Currently, public broadcasters are dealing with multiple cuts in funding in several states and have laid off workers, cut programming, have not upgraded aging technology and have closed offices, said “Current,” a newspaper about public media owned by the American University School of Communication.

Idaho, North Carolina, Oklahoma and Maine are considering shutting down transmitters serving sparsely populated regions due to funding constraints in their states.

In Rhode Island, Gov. Lincoln Chafee’s latest budget, unveiled at the end of January, proposes to eliminate all state funding to Rhode Island public broadcasting by fiscal year 2014. Support would fall from around $933,000, about a third of the station’s budget, to $425,000 next fiscal year. After that it would zero out.

“He’s basically given us until Dec. 31, 2012, to figure out our independence from state funding,” Rhode Island PBS president David Piccerelli told "Current." “With $900,000 gone, we’d have to come up with deep, deep cuts, ultimately in personnel, or a wealthy godmother or godfather in the community—probably a combination of both.”

The state licensee employs 19 at its fundraising foundation, 15 at the station and 17 overseeing production of the three public, education and government channels it runs. Budget discussions with the governor’s office continue.

In Oklahoma, legislation in the state Senate proposes zeroing out funding for public broadcasting next fiscal year, while a bill in the House would eliminate funding over five years. Representatives of The Oklahoma Network (OETA), which operates 19 stations and translators throughout the state, have been meeting with lawmakers to discuss the prospects.

OETA’s funding has already been cut from $5.2 million in fiscal year 2009 to $3.8 million this fiscal year. This represents 41 percent of its budget. It has already cut back on local news production and a total loss of state funding could require OETA to stop broadcasting to more remote areas of the state and cut even more local productions, Current reported.

South Carolina’s ETV faces a similar fate in a Republican state suffering dire economic conditions. Its network consists of eight radio stations and 11 television stations that still broadcast over the air—though most of the state is covered with cable and satellite.

South Carolina ETV has already closed its office in Beaufort, laid off its two staff members and ceased its local contributions to the state network’ programming. S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley has proposed cutting current funding for the state-wide network.

In Kansas, legislators recently refused to increase funding for public broadcasting. A House budget subcommittee had proposed adding to the $600,000 given to the public broadcasting system in Gov. Sam Brownback’s budget. However, the Appropriations Committee killed that appropriation. Kansas included $2 million to continue public broadcasting this fiscal year.

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter recommended a no-growth operating budget for Idaho Public Television, plus no more money for equipment replacement. The network has not received its usual state appropriation for equipment for three years and had requested $1.5 million for repairs and maintenance. It remains in dire straits.