Wednesday, June 22, 2005
Public broadcasting on chopping block
Roanoke's public TV and radio stations could lose a combined $397,920 in yearly funding. Do you agreee with the federal government's proposal to reduce spending
Proposed cuts in federal funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting could mean a loss of close to $400,000 for Roanoke's public radio and television stations.
Members of the U.S. House of Representatives are scheduled to vote Thursday on a spending bill that would cut 2006 fiscal year spending for CPB - a private organization created by Congress to support and fund public broadcasting - from $400 million to $300 million, with additional grants for public broadcasters to be slashed or eliminated.
For the Roanoke-based Blue Ridge Public Television (WBRA), and WVTF, a member station of National Public Radio, that would result in a loss of funding that is earmarked for programming and operation costs.
Jack Neal, president and general manager of Blue Ridge Public Television, said he had expected about $700,000 of its anticipated $3.9 million budget for 2006 to come from the CPB. The proposed reduction would slice that almost in half.
"All of our local programming would be affected," because the station already operates on a "bare-bones" budget, Neal said. "Just because you don't go dark this year doesn't mean you're the same TV station."
Viewer donations provide about one-quarter of a typical yearly budget, but Neal said it was unlikely fundraisers would supplement a capital loss of that size since the station has "maxed out on what we can get from viewers."
Rep. Ralph Regula, R-Ohio, who proposed the measure, has said it was necessary to avoid reductions in vocational education, job and medical training and other programs.
He also has said that his proposal should signal to public broadcasters that they need to stop relying on tax dollars and to tap private sources.
Kathryn Rexrode, press secretary to Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Roanoke, said the congressman would wait to see some of the amendments being offered to the proposal before commenting on it. Rexrode did not know if, or how often, Goodlatte tunes in to public television and radio stations.
Critics of the legislation worry that it is linked to complaints from some conservatives who say public broadcasting is too liberal, but WVTF general manager Glenn Gleixner shrugs off the claims.
He said CPB surveys "confirm that the majority of the U.S. adult population doesn't think that the news and information on public broadcasting is biased." He said the surveys match his experience with WVTF supporters, who are divided evenly along the political spectrum.
Gleixner added that the mood at the station was upbeat.
"I'll be the optimist," he said of the possibility of a tighter budget. "I would speculate that immediately anyway, people would not hear drastic alterations in our national or local programming. What will hurt us the most is our planning for enhanced programming and signal distribution in the future."
Margaret Little estimated she listens to about two or three hours of local public radio a day. The Botetourt County resident, who does not own a television, said the budget cuts don't make sense when the federal government funds "all kinds of dumb things."
Blue Ridge Public Television and WVTF weathered the loss of state funding in recent years. Neal said this pushed the television station to strip anything "not absolutely necessary to keeping the signal on the air."
Illustrating the point, Neal is a host of his station's show "Blue Ridge Excursions," in which he highlights cultural education spots throughout Blue Ridge region.
"The tough story to tell is that this station is far more than what someone would see watching PBS in prime time," he said.