Public service broadcasters in the US have spoken out against president Donald Trump’s plan to eliminate all their funding from the federal budget.
Trump announced yesterday that the US$465m the US government currently puts into the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) would be cut entirely.
The plans still need to move through the Senate and House of Representatives but could see some of the smaller PBS channels lose up to 25% of their funding, and the main PBS network having its overall programming budget cut by 7%.
PBS president and CEO Paula Kerger issued a statement pointing to support for her network on both sides of the house and among the general public.
Kerger said: “PBS and our nearly 350 member stations, along with our viewers, continue to remind Congress of our strong support among Republican and Democratic voters, in rural and urban areas across every region of the country.
“We have always had support from both parties in Congress, and will again make clear what the public receives in return for federal funding for public broadcasting. The cost of public broadcasting is small, only US$1.35 per citizen per year, and the benefits are tangible: increasing school readiness for kids aged two to eight, support for teachers and homeschoolers, lifelong learning, public safety communications and civil discourse.”
Kerger also pointed to two national surveys, one by Rasmussen Reports and another conducted by leading Republican and Democratic researchers for PBS, which showed that voters across the political spectrum overwhelmingly oppose eliminating federal funding for public television.
Rasmussen’s research found that just 21% of Americans – and only 32% of Republicans – favour ending public broadcasting support. In the PBS Hart Research – American Viewpoint poll, 83% of voters, including 70% of those who voted for Trump, said they wanted Congress to find savings elsewhere.
Patricia Harrison, president and CEO of the CPB, said the plans “would initially devastate and ultimately destroy public media’s role in early childhood education, public safety, connecting citizens to our history, and promoting civil discussions – all for Americans in both rural and urban communities.”
She added: “We will work with the new administration and Congress in raising awareness that elimination of federal funding to CPB begins the collapse of the public media system itself and the end of this essential national service.”
Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit educational group behind Sesame Street, which airs on PBS, issued its own statement saying: “Sesame Street was created to provide early access to education for all children. Research shows that high quality preschool educational experiences are a key determinant in an individual’s lifelong learning outcomes.
“PBS makes Sesame Street available to all Americans and thereby continues to play a major role in helping less privileged kids gain access to preschool education that has proven and enduring value. While Sesame Workshop currently receives no direct funding from PBS or CPB, we stand firmly and passionately in support of the vital public investment that allows them to continue this important work.”
The Trump administration is planning sweeping cuts to arts funding, of which the public service broadcasting cuts are a part.
Liz Janneman, executive VP of network strategy at independently owned arts network Ovation TV, described the plan as “a new low point for the current administration.”
“By ignoring the voices of millions of Americans, and focusing on the ill-informed advice of organisations like The Heritage Foundation, president Trump has taken an axe to one of the best investments the federal government makes year in and year out,” she said.
“Rather than the short-sighted point of view that the arts are a frivolity or a luxury not worthy of federal funding, this administration fails to recognise the well-documented fact that arts and culture industries generate US$22.3bn in revenue to local, state and federal governments every year, and create 4.13 million full-time jobs, generating US$86.68bn in household income.
“The arts are also one of America’s biggest exports. So, if the contention is that eliminating the budget is somehow going to save the federal government money, then someone needs to check the batteries in their calculator.”