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Mar 17, 2011

NPR speaks out on House bill

NPR issued this statement after the House voted today (March 17) to keep stations from spending federal money on dues or programming:

Today, NPR expressed grave concern about the impact of the approval of H.R. 1076 on the entire public radio system – hundreds of stations, dozens of program producers and the communities that rely on them every week. The bill is a direct effort to weaken public radio that would ultimately choke local stations’ ability to serve their audiences.

Many small-budget stations would be placed in a serious financial bind. They would no longer be allowed to purchase any programming with federal funds. The communities they serve would be unable to provide sufficient support to fill that gap, leaving these stations no options for maintaining service.

“At a time when other news organizations are cutting back and the voices of pundits are drowning out fact-based reporting and thoughtful analysis, NPR and public radio stations are delivering in-depth news and information respectfully and with civility. It would be a tragedy for America to lose this national treasure,” said Joyce Slocum, interim CEO.

The bill stunts the growth of new, diverse programming and threatens the continuation of existing efforts to serve diverse audiences by clamping down on CPB’s Program Fund. That fund has supported the work of Native American (Koahnik Public Media Native Voice 1), Latino (Radio Bilingue) and independent producers (This I Believe, StoryCorps).

The bill also prohibits the use of federal funds to develop new programs. Nearly every nationally distributed public radio program has received a CPB grant, usually at start-up. (Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Marketplace, This American Life, and Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me! to name a few). Without that seed money, programs that nearly 38 million public radio listeners rely on each week would never have launched.

The legislation precludes NPR from competing for federal grants that provide for investments in technology and disability access. These grants, administered by NPR on behalf of public radio, have propelled public radio’s progress in digital media, and in systems for emergency communications during disasters and for the issuance of Amber Alerts.

The ban on federal funding threatens the Public Radio Satellite System (PRSS), the distribution hub for all of public radio programming to audiences all across America. PRSS would be deprived of funds for future capital improvement projects, which are essential to maintain this fundamental broadcast infrastructure.

Finally, the bill limits collaboration among stations that today are sharing newsgathering and programming, forcing these stations into isolation and limiting their ability to work together in the public interest.

White House statement on bill defunding NPR

The president's Executive Office of Management and Budget just issued this statement on the House's decision to ban use of federal funds for NPR dues and programming:

The Administration strongly opposes House passage of H.R. 1076, which would unacceptably prohibit Federal funding of National Public Radio (NPR) and the use of Federal funds by public radio stations to acquire radio content. As part of the President’s commitment to cut spending, the President’s Budget proposed targeted reductions in funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), which provides a small amount of funding for NPR, and the Administration has expressed openness to other spending reductions that are reasonable. However, CPB serves an important public purpose in supporting public radio, television, and related online and mobile services. The vast majority of CPB’s funding for public radio goes to more than 700 stations across the country, many of them local stations serving communities that rely on them for access to news and public safety information. Undercutting funding for these radio stations, notably ones in rural areas where such outlets are already scarce, would result in communities losing valuable programming, and some stations could be forced to shut down altogether.

CPB, PMA statements on House NPR defunding

Here are statements that the Corporation for Public Broadcasting just released on today's (March 17) House vote to prohibit federal funding for NPR dues and programming:

From CPB:

Today, the House passed a bill that would significantly restrict public broadcasting stations’ ability to acquire programming that they feel best serves the needs of their communities.

Every day, these stations serve the informational and educational needs of the public with programming that contributes to the health and well-being of the country in a way that would not be possible without federal support. The American people overwhelmingly agree that public broadcasting is a service worthy of the federal investment.

At a time when international events, such as the recent uprisings in Libya and the earthquake in Japan, have a direct and immediate impact on this country, public media serves as a trusted source for informative, in-depth coverage of international, national and local news. Rather than penalize public broadcasting, the debate should focus on strengthening and supporting this valuable national asset.

From the Public Media Association, the new entity created by the Association of Public Television Stations and NPR:

This legislation, which would destroy a public radio system that has served the American people well for 40 years, has been passed by the House without the benefit of a single hearing on the subject.

While it is portrayed as a deficit-reduction measure, the legislation has been preliminarily scored by the Congressional Budget Office as saving not a single penny.

While it has been portrayed as responding to the will of the American people, the legislation in fact defies the will of the overwhelming majority of Americans, who have consistently said they support continued funding of public broadcasting and view it as the second-best use of tax dollars, exceeded only by national defense.

Public radio provides an essential public service — covering local, national and international news more comprehensively than any other news medium, preserving and promoting American music and culture as no other medium will do, and considering public affairs in a civil, dispassionate and highly trusted manner that helps insure that a well-informed citizenry is well-equipped for the responsibilities of self-government in a complicated and dangerous world.

And it does all this for pennies per taxpayer, reaching Americans everywhere for free. While improvements in this successful system are a constant topic of conversation within our industry, and would be a welcome topic for consideration with our federal representatives, the dismantling of the system — which is the real effect of this legislation — makes such improvements impossible.

The only result would be the loss of thousands of jobs in this industry, the closing or severe restriction of hundreds of local stations serving small-town and rural America which depend on federal funds for 30 to 100 percent of their annual budgets, including program acquisition, and the loss of vital information for millions of Americans.

This cannot be the way the Congress of the United States wants to make public policy. It is certainly not what the American people expect of their elected representatives. We call upon the United States Senate to reject this most unwise and unworthy legislation.”

Attention RSSers

Don't miss Current's breaking news coverage of the House approval of H.R. 1076, to ban use of federal funding on NPR programming and dues.

NPR defunding bill passes

H.R. 1076, to prohibit federal funding for station dues or NPR programming, has passed the House by a vote of 228-192.

“This bill is insidious,” pubcasting champion Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) told Current Wednesday (March 16). “This is a fascinating metaphor for what is going on with new Republican majority. This isn’t about cutting budgets, it’s very much ideologically driven and pretty diametrically at variance with where most of the American public is.”

NPR House update, vote set for this afternoon

Debate is now set to begin later today on H.R. 1076, which would prohibit federal funding to NPR.

During morning discussions, some of which focused on a procedural rule associated with the bill, Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) reported that he offered an amendment that would "prohibit federal funds — taxpayer dollars — from being used for advertising on the partisan, political platform of Fox News." According to a Rand Study, he said, the Department of Defense spent $6 million in advertising in 2007; he called for the Government Accountability Office to study "how and where this money is being spent."

His effort to amend the bill was defeated in the House Rules Committee during an emergency meeting Wednesday (March 16).

Some discussion this morning focused on the speed that brought the bill to the floor. Last July, Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) promised that a Republican House majority in the 112th Congress would ensure that all bills will be posted online 72 hours before a vote. Several Democrats noted that H.R. 1076 was posted at 1:42 p.m. Tuesday, which would make it eligible for a vote at 1:42 p.m. on Friday. Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas), speaker pro tem, said the rule "means three calendar days," drawing sustained boo's from Democrats. Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) shouted over the ruckus, "For clarity in the House, did this bill age 72 hours?" to which Poe replied, "The chair will not respond to hypothetical questions" — bringing more loud booing.

Other highlights of the morning's discussion:

Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) — “The Republican legislation attacking National Public Radio would drive Car Talk off the road and would wipe Lake Wobegon right off the map. It would close down Marketplace and tell  Wait, Wait ... Don’t Tell Me to take a hike. This misguided bill would snuff out stations from coast-to-coast, many in rural areas where the public radio station is the primary source of news and information."

Rep. David Drier (R-Calif.) — "If we don’t take on the $14 trillion national debt and $1.6 trillion annual deficit we’re not going to be implementing pro-growth economic policies. ... I'm proud to support three local stations, KPCC and KCRW, and WAMU, and I participate in pledge drives. I believe in voluntary contributions. ... In fact, when NPR is successfully weaned away from compulsory taxpayer dollars, I personally will increase my level of contributions."

Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) — "We need to go back to basic principles here." In 1934, when the Federal Communications Commission was established, "people were given broadcast licenses to serve the public interest, convenience and necessity. The public owns the airwaves. ... This is about a basic public right, and if you take that right away, what you’ve done is totally capitulate to corporate interests in America."

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) — "We're not here to debate content, but we have to deal with fiscal reality. Every time we turn around, nobody wants to cut anything. Every time we make a decision about spending, we're talking about, should we go into somebody’s pocket, pull money out and give it to somebody else? We’re not only doing that, we’re borrowing money to do it. NPR is wildly successful, listenership is rising. That gives a lot of us belief that we're really moving toward a model where they can sustain themselves rather than relying on taxpayers. ... We don’t have any money, we’re broke."

House to consider NPR defunding bill today; vote expected at 10:15

In what the New York Times is editorializing as "the latest example of House Republicans pursuing a longstanding ideological goal in the false name of fiscal prudence," the House today (March 17) votes on H.R. 1076, sponsored by Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.), which would prohibit federal funds to be spent on NPR dues or programming.

According to today's Majority Whip schedule, debate on the bill will begin at 9 a.m., with a vote expected at 10:15 a.m. C-SPAN has live coverage.

The bill would eliminate the Radio Program fund, which makes possible initiatives including Radio Biling├╝e’s national program service and Native Voice One, the Native American radio service. Production grants to independent producers also would be affected.

The Station Resource Group told its members that it believes the bill, if passed, would "eviscerate public radio’s capacity to address program innovation, minority programming concerns, and program collaboration among station, producing, and distribution organizations."

"The public radio system will be a significantly weaker service five years from now if H.R. 1076 were to become law — that that will have a negative impact of every public broadcasting organization."

With members shying away, House Public Broadcasting caucus collapses

The House bipartisan Public Broadcasting Caucus, formed in April 2001 to educate lawmakers and defend pubcasting from funding attacks, has disbanded — at least for now. It is not registered as a Congressional Member Organization for the current House session, according to this month’s list from the Committee on House Administration, which is required. Co-Chairman Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), a founding member, tells Current he is “just letting it go” as he focuses on the current fight for federal support.

“The whole purpose of the caucus was to provide a neutral forum to talk about public broadcasting issues and give people a way to support it,” he said. But given the bitterly partisan funding wars over public broadcasting, “some members feel it’s too awkward for them” to belong, Blumenauer said. “Some have been told confidentially it’s not good for them to be identified with it.”

The latest incarnation of the caucus during the last Congress had 116 members, up from 69 in 2001. But on March 10, one day after NPR President Vivian Schiller resigned in the wake of the video sting controversy, Rep. Mike McCaul (R-Texas) — a former co-chair — announced he was dropping out. "As a father of five children, I have been supportive of PBS children's programming in the past," he said in a statement. "However, the recent events involving NPR undermine their claims of objectivity in their reporting. Because NPR has crossed the line to political bias, I will no longer serve on the caucus." An aide to another GOP member, Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), told Current he was no longer a member but did not elaborate.

Blumenauer hopes to reconstruct the caucus at some point, he said, but probably not this year.

More in the next issue of Current.