A Q&A on NPR and Federal Funding
WXXI's Jon Haliniak sat down with President Norm Silverstein to talk about the impact of HR 1076, a bill that would prevent federal funds from going to NPR and would prevent stations from using federal dollars to acquire NPR or other radio programming. Here's an excerpt from their discussion:
Q: What does HR 1076 do?
A: HR 1076 states that no federal funding may go directly to NPR, and that public radio stations cannot use federal funds to acquire any radio content, including programs such as Morning Edition, A Prairie Home Companion, Car Talk, or Diane Rehm.
Q: What impact would it have on WXXI?
A: For a relatively strong station like WXXI, our listeners wouldn’t hear an immediate impact because we would be able to use other funds, including membership and corporate support to acquire programs. But for smaller, rural stations that don’t have flexibility in their budget and where federal funding is a much bigger part of their budget, they wouldn’t be able to acquire programs from NPR or any other national radio producer. Although they would still have some federal funding, they wouldn’t be able to replace programming that they have now, and I think it would be questionable whether those stations could survive.
In the longer term, this bill could have a very negative impact on WXXI. It would make it more difficult for smaller stations to continue to purchase programs that we produce, such as With Heart and Voice and Fascinatin’ Rhythm because the bill prohibits using federal money to acquire any radio program. If stations that depend on federal funding are forced to drop their membership in NPR and not acquire other programs, it weakens the entire public radio system, including WXXI. And that means less in-depth news programming, fewer talk shows, and fewer opportunities to present the best of arts and culture in Rochester to our community and to the nation.
Q: What are the chances of HR 1076 passing the Senate?
A: We hope that the Senate will reject this bill, and barring that, the President would veto it. But we believe this is only the beginning of the assault on federal funding for public broadcasting. There are other bills and amendments that will come before the House and the Senate that will look to defund all federal support for public broadcasting. Again, federal support mostly goes to television and helps support educational and children’s programming.
Q: What impact would HR 1076 have on the federal deficit?
A: Absolutely none. The bill doesn’t cut funding, it just tells stations how to use that funding, and it prevents direct funding to NPR. In fact, NPR receives very little direct support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB). I think there was a great deal of misinformation about this bill, which is to be expected when a bill is rushed through as an emergency measure like this one was without the benefit of even one minute of hearings or testimony.
Q: It was suggested during the hearings that this re-allocation of funds would allow stations to produce their own programming like other small commercial radio stations have done. Is that fair to say?
A: There are very few small, independent radio stations left in any major city in the country. Most commercial stations are owned by larger groups, where they share programming and use automation for a good part of the day. I’m not aware of any way a smaller station, with limited facilities, could provide the kind of service offered by NPR and the other national programming organizations. Without those “keystone” national programs, it would be difficult for stations to attract the kind of membership and corporate support they have today, so many would be forced to go dark.
I would also note that commercial stations receive a great deal of political and advocacy advertising, which public broadcasting does not accept. For many commercial stations, the political ads are what make the difference between being in the black or the red at the end of the year.
Q: At the same time as HR 1076, there is also a movement underway to eliminate federal funding entirely. What impact would that have?
A: If federal funding were completely eliminated, it would change public media as we know it today. Of course, stations would do their best to try and replace it, but there would have to be cuts in programs and services (federal funding varies by station, but it makes up about 12% of the budget at WXXI). For example, if all federal funding went away, it would be the equivalent of what we raise through all of our on-air television and radio membership drives in an entire year. I don’t think our viewers and listeners would stand for us trying to double the amount of on-air fundraising to replace those dollars.
Q: What impact would the elimination of CPB have on the federal deficit?
A: You could defund CPB one thousand times over and the federal deficit next year would still be $1.5 trillion. So to say that it would have any significant impact on the federal deficit is ridiculous. We all agree that the federal deficit needs to be dealt with, but Congress should be looking at places that make an impact. We’re not even a “rounding error” on the current deficit.
Q: Would we be better off without federal funding?
A: We’re a not-for-profit, but we’re still part of the free market. Right now there’s supposed to be a firewall between funders and content-providers. What Congress is proposing to do with bills like this is tear down that firewall. The federal funding we receive from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting supports education and children’s programming on television and infrastructure on radio – those would be difficult to raise private funds for, if federal funding went away. Would we be better off without children’s programming and the ability to serve our community? I don’t think so.
Q: Is there anything the community can do right now?
A: This bill still hasn’t been considered by the Senate, so we would hope that our supporters would still continue to call as there will likely be other bills that would look to defund public broadcasting. Clearly, the voices of our supporters have been heard – I’ve been told that from people who have voted for us and people who have voted against us. There is strong community support for WXXI, and we need to continue that effort until this threat has passed. Continue to call your members of congress and local senators and let them know how you feel about public broadcasting. You can also show your support by visiting 170millionamericans.org and signing up to receive updates. Because the future of WXXI and public broadcasting is at stake, it is important that your elected representatives hear directly from you about whether or not funding for public broadcasting should be continued.
Here is a list of Representatives and Senators, along with their phone numbers:
MEMBERS OF CONGRESS:
29th District: Honorable Thomas Reed, District phone: (607) 654-7566, Washington phone: (202) 225-3161
28th District: Honorable Louise Slaughter, District phone: (585) 232-4850, Washington phone: (202) 225-3615
25th District: Honorable Ann Marie Buerkle, District phone: (585) 336-7291, Washington phone: (202) 225-3701
24th District: Honorable Richard Hanna, District phone: (315) 724-9740, Washington phone: (202) 225-3665
NEW YORK SENATORS:
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand Washington, DC Office: 202-224-4451, State Office: 212-688-6262
Web e-mail form: gillibrand.senate.gov/contact/
Senator Charles Schumer, Washington, DC Office: 202-224-6542, State Office: 212-486-4430
Web e-mail form: schumer.senate.gov/new_website/contact.cfm
Lastly, I hope you have a chance to catch our Voice of the Voter Rochester Mayoral Debate with candidates William Johnson, Thomas Richards, and Alex White on Thursday, March 24 at 7 p.m. on AM 1370 and at WXXI.org, and at 9 p.m. on WXXI-TV/HD. WXXI News Director Julie Philipp will moderate, and panelists Helene Biandudi of WXXI; Brian Sharp of Rochester Democrat & Chronicle; and Rachel Barnhart of 13WHAM-TV will ask the candidates questions. This is just one more example of the kind of community-based programming you can't find anywhere else.