It’s time again for the periodic conservative Republican attack on public broadcasting. This time the attempt seems to have gone the furthest since Newt Gingrich’s campaign in the 1990s. The House of Representatives voted this month to eliminate funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting as part of the $61 billion cuts in an appropriations bill to finance the government for the next seven months.
If the Senate should agree with the cuts, they would affect more than half of all Americans, who use public media every month through 368 public television stations, 934 public radio stations and the many community radio stations. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting helps fund them as well as National Public Radio and Public Broadcasting Service.
The Maine Public Broadcasting Network would lose about $1.5 million, or 14 percent of its budget, says President and CEO Jim Dowe. While that loss would affect service throughout Maine, he expresses his personal view that the system could absorb reasonable reductions in taxpayer funding over the next three to five years.
At Maine’s two community radio stations, WERU would lose about $125,000, a quarter of its budget, and WMPG in Portland would lose about $80,000, a similar fraction. They make up the rest of their funding through contributions from listeners and local businesses.
Favorites among the public television and radio broadcasts include “Sesame Street,” “Nova,” “Masterpiece Theater,” “Car Talk” and “Prairie Home Companion.” Their news programming is of particular value to many Mainers, including two members of the BDN editorial board whose spouses have been serving on the MPBN board. They regularly follow “Morning Edition,” “All Things Considered” and the “PBS NewsHour” with Jim Lehrer.
While many of the programs are noncontroversial, and while the “NewsHour” is carefully balanced between left and right, conservative Republicans consider some of the NPR programs to be biased in favor of liberalism. Others find them to be not only informative, with material not readily available on commercial broadcasts, but also a welcome offset to the ultra-conservatism in much commercial television and radio.
Public broadcasting’s strong supporters have fought off past efforts to cut off its funding. The test this year will come in the Senate, where the Republican leadership will try to present a united front and pick up a few Democrats to sustain the House cuts.
Maine’s two Republican senators, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, have generally supported public broadcasting in the past, but they doubtless will feel pressure to go along with the budget cuts.