Public Broadcasters Go to the Mat

Public broadcasters clawed their way out of the void Thursday with a bipartisan amendment that restored their baseline funding for fiscal 2006.

Reps. Dave Obey (D-Wis.), Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) and Jim Leach (R-Iowa) presented the amendment Thursday during floor debate on the Fiscal Year Labor-Health and Human Services-Education (LHHS) bill. Sans the amendment, the bill would have cut $100 million from the $400 million 2006 appropriation for the Corp. for Public Broadcasting, which provides roughly 15 percent of funding for public TV stations across the country.

The House bill still eliminates $23 million for Ready To Learn, meaning Big Bird will get his goose cooked, and Buster won't be sending any more postcards. The digital infrastructure and interconnection program, which received $79 million last year, was also cut. The total amount on the chopping block represents 46 percent of CPB funding for the coming year.

Obey, the Wisconsin congressman, had already secured an amendment to restore $400 million CPB funding for fiscal 2008 while the bill was in committee. (Appropriations for CPB are typically determined three or four years in advance.)

Public broadcasters are also fighting cuts on another front. The House recently voted to eliminate funding for the Public Telecommunications Facilities Program, but on June 21, the Senate Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations approved $22 million for PTFP for the coming year. The final outcome of that skirmish will have to be determined in a House-Senate conference.

John Lawson, chief of the Association for Public Television Stations opined the cuts, saying they would slow the DTV transition, and by association, the release of the analog broadcast spectrum.

Meanwhile, the CPB itself is embroiled in internal controversy. While the LHHS bill moved through the House, 16 Democrats in the Senate called for the resignation of CPB Chairman Kenneth Tomlinson. Tomlinson, a Republican, made waves after it was discovered he secretly hiried a consultant last year to assess the political slant of public TV and radio.

The researcher, Fred Mann, worked for 20 years at a journalism center founded by the American Conservative Union and a conservative columnist, according to The Frontrunner. Mann reportedly used labels such as "pro-Bush," "anti-Bush," "anti-DeLay," and "anti-corporation" to rate guests on "Now" with Bill Moyers.

Tomlinson was also under attack for hand-picking Assistant Secretary of State Patricia Harrison to be president of CPB. Harrison, a former co-chairman of the Republican National Committee, was considered by some to be too political to be the "heat shield" for public broadcasting. She received board approval for the job Thursday.

"Patricia Harrison has a reputation for competence and inclusiveness," said a statement from the APTS. "We will make every good faith effort to work with her. She has a unique opportunity to reach out to all sides and begin rebuilding trust in CPB. I hope her first act will be to call upon fellow Republicans in Congress to restore the 45 percent cut passed by the House Appropriations Committee. We also call upon Ken Tomlinson to respect the limited role of chairman of CPB and let Ms. Harrison do her job."