Presidential spending commission targets Corporation for Public Broadcasting

In an effort to reduce public spending, the co-chairs of the President’s National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform have recommended eliminating all funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB). What it means for TV stations in the throes of the migration to fixed high-definition and mobile television broadcasting has yet to be considered.

The CPB’s funding has been at issue during previous administrations (“Mr. Rogers Neighborhood” Fred Rogers testified before the Senate Communications Subcommittee in 1969), but current market conditions and the recent Republican victories in Congress could spell doom for the nation’s public TV stations.

A draft proposal, released last week, said that cutting the $500 million worth of funding for NPR and PBS stations is just one of many “painful” cuts that could help achieve the administration’s deficit-reduction goals.

President Obama created the bipartisan commission to find ways to save $200 billion from the federal budget. However, the statements by the chairmen, prior to the report’s Dec. 1 release, were even a surprise to the administration. The cuts to the CPB were only part of the wide-ranging cuts recommended.

“The only way to make those tough choices historically has been if both parties are willing to move forward together,” President Obama said at a news conference in Seoul, South Korea. “And so before anybody starts shooting down proposals, I think we need to listen, we need to gather up all the facts. I think we have to be straight with the American people.”

The commission is made up primarily of an even number of House and Senate Democrats and Republicans, with a handful of industry reps including a former ad agency exec. The co-chairmen are former Republican Wyoming Senator Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles, former chief of staff to President Clinton.

The proposal has set up a furious debate between the liberal wing of the Democratic Party that supported Obama’s election and the newly elected Tea Party faction of the House of Representatives. The gridlock between the two may help protect the CPB and others agencies against the reduction plan.

Republicans have long argued for cutting back or eliminating funding for CPB, suggesting it is government underwriting of a liberal-leaning media outlet. Now with control of the new House of Representatives, the Republicans gain new clout in such funding issues.

“As the steward of the federal investment in public media, CPB strongly disagrees with the co-chairmen of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, who propose without justification to completely eliminate funding for CPB and other public broadcasting programs,” CPB said in a statement.

“From a yearly federal investment amounting to $1.35 per American, public broadcasting returns six times that amount in programming and services, creating 17,000 jobs in the American economy,” CPB argued. “This important investment, through CPB and the other public broadcasting programs, should be supported for the benefit, education and enrichment of all Americans.”

Also defending CPB was a major public advocacy group, Free Press.

“Foreclosing on ‘Sesame Street’ is not the answer to reducing our national deficit, “said Free Press president Josh Silver. “It is inconceivable at a time when commercial news is dominated by five-second soundbytes, yelling pundits and little actual journalism, that this commission would consider eliminating funding to one of the few remaining sources of enterprise journalism and educational programming. PBS and NPR are the most trusted media brands in America — and clearly the benefits of noncommercial media warrant more public investment, not less.”