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PBS CEO: Trump's budget threatens "very existence" of public television

Mar 26, 2017

President Trump’s proposed budget threatens the “very existence” of public television, and would “result in tremendous loss for our country,” PBS CEO Paula Kerger told a Detroit Economic Club audience Friday.

Cutting all federal funds for public broadcasting would have devastating consequences, especially in underserved areas, Kerger said.

She pointed to evidence that PBS children’s programming yields long-lasting positive benefits, especially for kids who don’t attend preschool, and lack other educational resources at home.

“At a time when low-income and rural families risk falling behind, public media’s proven educational content is available in nearly every single home, whether you’re a single mother in Detroit, or a coal miner in West Virginia,” Kerger said.

Paula Kerger, President & CEO of PBS
Credit pbs.org

Those words deliberately echoed statements from President Trump’s budget chief, Mick Mulvaney, who recently said it’s unfair to ask “a coal miner in West Virginia or a single mom in Detroit” to pay for public television.

Federal money for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting goes directly to PBS member stations. It accounts for 15% of stations’ revenue “in aggregate,” but that varies widely by region.

Smaller, rural stations are much more dependent on federal funds, and Kerger says there’s really no substitute for that.

If CPB funding really is zeroed out, “In terms of service in rural communities, I don’t have a plan B,” Kerger said. “For the stations that I’m talking about, I think the reality is they will go away.”

Kerger pointed out that public broadcasting remains popular across the political spectrum. And while she spent much of her time emphasizing the importance of PBS children’s programming, she said it’s broadly committed to providing “content that illuminates new perspectives, gives oxygen and airtime to complex issues, and encourages civil discourse at a time when it is so desperately needed.”

Beyond the financial uncertainties, Kerger admitted it’s also tough to predict where the larger media landscape is going. Noting how much it’s changed in just the past ten years, Kerger said we probably can’t imagine how it will look ten years down the road.

But when it comes to public broadcasting’s larger vision, “What is important is what stays the same,” Kerger said. “We will keep our core values intact.”