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The House swings at NPR, hits every radio programmer

The drive by House Republicans to eliminate the ocean of federal debt one contentious spoonful at a time took another step forward Thursday when lawmakers voted 228 to 192 for a bill (HR 1076) to bar federal dollars from flowing, directly or indirectly, to NPR. Talk about raising the cost of Juan Williams' severance!

Although the bill has been widely covered, the focus has been limited to the effect on NPR. The measure, though, would bar public radio stations from using federal funds to acquire programming from any source -- left, right or center. That could be a severe blow to programmers and to small stations that rely on federal dollars for at least part of their content budgets.

One example of the former is Minneapolis-based Public Radio International, which distributes "This American Life," "The World" and the "BBC World Service," among other programs. "About 50% of our revenue comes from station fees, so that would be difficult for us from a financial standpoint," said Julia Yager, vice president of brand management and marketing strategy for PRI.

Of course, money is fungible. Stations could arrange their ledgers to show federal dollars going to salaries, utilities and fundraising, with private dollars being used to buy programs from NPR, PRI and other sources. It's not clear how the feds could stop that even if HR 1076 became law.

That's why the most likely effect would be on the little guys. "Many, many public broadcasting stations are small stations that only have a couple of staff and volunteers," Yager said. Those are the outlets that are most dependent on federal dollars to fill their airwaves with programming.

Jennifer Ferro, general manager of KCRW in Santa Monica, agreed. Because the station has a large audience that supports it financially, Ferro said, federal dollars make up only 8% of its budget. But small stations don't have the same "economic diversity," she said, adding, "There's not the wealthy major donors ready to step in and pay more."

Public radio programmers such as PRI and American Public Media, whose programs include the business-oriented "Marketplace," typically charge KCRW and other large stations higher fees than they do small stations. And the large stations' ability to keep paying for shows without federal funds could mitigate the effects on those programmers should HR 1076 become law.

All of this discussion dances around the issue of whether federal tax dollars should be used to pay for programming, period. I'm torn on that one. I think the current system does a good job of removing politics from funding decisions -- the Corp. for Public Broadcasting's dollars go to local stations, which are free to choose the flavor of (non-commercial) programming they think their communities want to hear. But there's a slippery slope from government-subsidized broadcasters to government-sanctioned speech.

I also admire much of the work done by the reporters at NPR and "Marketplace," just to single out a couple of public radio mainstays. It's reassuring to have news sources of this caliber that don't rely on advertisers to stay on the air. Yet the distinction between the advertisers on commercial stations and the underwriters used by public radio programmers is blurry at best.

All the same, it's not clear from the debate that Republicans recognize just how sweeping HR 1076 would be. And before they go any further, they need that reality check. As Bill Gray of American Public Media put it, "The bill would affect the entire public radio system, and not just NPR as it is being presented."

RELATED:

Op-Ed: NPR needs a backbone

-- Jon Healey

 

Comments () | Archives (22)

The comments to this entry are closed.

d

Republicans, committed to making America dumber every day!

Pete

Liberals, making America dumber everyday by breeding.

MEC

As soon as someone obtains the name of the Republicans who crossed the aisle and voted against the bill, please post their names so that we can vote them out when they are up for re-election.

naksuthin

If they want to make a big splash they should vote to oppose federal subsides and loan guarantees for private , for-profit Nuclear power plants.
If nuclear power plants can't exist on investor financing they don't deserve to exist at all.
Why is the administration proposing to give nuclear power plants load guarantees of billions of dollars.
One nuclear plant alone costs from 3-5 billion dollars.
The risk and costs are borne by the US taxpayers who promise private investor that they won't be able to lose money on the deal because the taxpayers will make up for any losses.
It's no different from the bank bailout or the GM bailout.

Time for Nuclear Power plants to stop relying on "welfare" from the taxpayers. If investors won't pony up the money, there's a pretty good chance it's because it's a BAD INVESTMENT

MEC

"If investors won't pony up the money, there's a pretty good chance it's because it's a BAD INVESTMENT"

Possibly. However, a good investment is even better if the taxpayers pay the fare.

Anonymous

Why are taxes supporting any business? Cut them all off. If you can't make it without taxpayer assistance, find a different business.

beth

yes. Republicans complaining other ppl have a fact based reality that doesn't jive with the corporate sponsored version.

Anymouse

A well informed public is necessary to sustain a democracy. I find it somewhat comforting that there are new outlets that are not (at least not entirely) beholden to corporate sponsors.

The author mentions that he is torn on the issue of gov't sponsored media because "there's a slippery slope from government-subsidized broadcasters to government-sanctioned speech." If that's true we seem to have shoes with really good traction because in over 40 years of operation neither NPR nor CPB have shown any indication that their speech is controlled by the government.

As for the O'Keefe tapes, I find it interesting that the bastions of virtue on right felt that it was necessary to go undercover, lie, and misrepresent information (on a level that gives Glenn Beck, of all people, pause) to show a bias in content which is all freely available online.

me

Now thats really going to balance the budget.

Tom

Only a Progressive cheerleading newsprint organization like the Times could spin it this way. Government funding of any news organization is corrupt. If NPR were a Republican mouthpiece, liberals would be up in arms...as they should be.

Freedom of the press is just that. It is NOT government (taxpayer) funding of the press.

stephen  petty

The slippery line between advertisers on commercial radio and sponsors on public radio would be resolved if there were no sponsors at all but the government funded completely as is done in Europe. And English public, government-sponsored radio/tv is spectacular despite the problems. Look at all the shows the U.S. stations purchase from the BBC and there is so much more good stuff Americans never see, wonderful documentaries.

The Pacifica stations have no government funding at all, but they have a major population base and an intensely loyal audience. That audience got the board fired and the manager when the later wanted to tap into NPR-like government money. But the small stations would be seriously hurt by the Republican measure and the large stations' content would be less various and exciting.

But we all should be honest about the reason for the Republican measure: it has not much to do with money which is comparatively slight but the fact that NPR attempts to be fact-based (Newshour anyone, which is very middle-of-the-road also) and to touch upon difficult subjects.

TheNonEconomist

"Of course, money is fungible. Stations could arrange their ledgers to show federal dollars going to salaries, utilities and fundraising, with private dollars being used to buy programs from NPR, PRI and other sources. It's not clear how the feds could stop that even if HR 1076 became law."

Excellent point! So seriously, what do Republicans think they have achieved? If they were really serious, wouldn't they have actually cut the funding by a specific dollar number?

Pat

You fools!
1) Every dime counts
2) Stop the Leftist from babling. If it is soooo good, let the free market decide if they should stay in business.

Emacee

Seems like this might give an advantage to PRI and American Public Media since apparently government could still be used to acquire their programs. It might also mean some shows NPR distributes but does not produce might switch from NPR to one of the other distributors. NPR might end up being less dominant in public radio with stations running The Takeaway in the morning or with Click and Clack coming from PRI.

Tony W

NPR news and commentary caters mainly to Democrats and has a blatant liberal tilt, want to make it fair?

Give Fox News and Clear Channel the same amount of taxpayer money NPR receives or pay Rush Limbaugh or Glen Beck to broadcast a couple hours of their daily shows on NPR. I think Pajamas Media has media available that could be adapted to NPR's format.

Best thing would be for the Federal Government to get out of funding news and commentary. This fantasy that poor people light a candle and gather around the radio to "get some culture" from NPR is very condescending.

listening to stories about how Umbotu's goat died and his family was going to starve to death was saved when the UN's multi-trillion dollar "Give-a-goat" program saved them but the evil
"RepublicanconservativeFauxNewsRushLimbaghBeckTeaParty" Dummy stupid heads want to defend the program because the are racists and stupid!

Bob

Cry me a river.

Bob

Just saw the histerical post by natsukin. A glass belly button for you. The vast majority of the cost of a nuclear power plant, and the major reason for the time to get one in operation, is ludicrous GOVERNMENT regulations. You want your rich uncle to regulate how many cockroaches can live in the plant bathroom then you have to pay for it.

Donna grant

It seems that the lunatics are running the asylum these days. The same folks who brought us tax breaks for the richest Americans is now trying to undermine the national treasure that is Public Broadcast by cutting Federal support for it.
In my opinion PBS and NPR are the place to go when you're tired of the bellowing pundits on cable. My hope is that the Senate won't go along with this nonsense.

joefrombake

Now I see. It's NPR and their enlightened listeners who have the monopoly on smarts. Golly.

P J Evans

As usual - Congresscritters passing a law that doesn't do anything to fix any real problem, because they panicked, again, at the hint of a fake problem. (And anything produced by O'Keefe or his friends should be assumed to be a fake, based on their history and their convictions for fraud.)

affableman

"That's why the most likely effect would be on the little guys." Typical of Republicans...

bcisco

public radio is like mcdonalds. wherever you go in this country you dial down to the end of the dial and you hear the same familiar boring radio. public radio lacks vibrancy and local flavor and should not be supported by the federal government.


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