PBS: Where's the Controversy?

Hammer, Mark and Rudolph, Ileane. "Public Broadcasting in Fight for Its Life vs. New Congress". TV Guide. December 24, 1994, p. 25.

Public television may be in a battle for its existence this spring when Congress determines how much money to allocate to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) for FY 1998. With calls from incoming House Speaker Newt Gingrich to "zero out" CPB and a pledge by incoming Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole to "carefully review federal funding," the new, budget-slashing Congress may try to pull the plug on public broadcasting.

"It should be privatized," says conservative media critic L. Brent Bozell, who claims 90 percent of PBS programs could make it in a competitive environment. "The other 10 percent should be flushed down the toilet." He's got at least one big ally in Congress. Says Larry Pressler, incoming chairman of the Senate commerce committee, "If CPB could get 50 percent of Barney's profits, it'd be floating in money, and it wouldn't cost the taxpayers a cent."

But public-broadcasting officials claim federal funding is the spark that fires CPB's engine. "I don't think public TV could survive and maintain its mandate without federal funding," says PBS president Ervin Duggan. "Survival would come at a cost of becoming commercial. We'd be driven by ratings, not quality." Plus, they feel their fiscal case is sound. "Ninety percent of the appropriation goes directly to communities for programming," says CPB president Richard W. Carlson.

CPB and PBS must also convince Congress their services are broader-based than such programs as Frontline and Tales of the City, which have come under fire from the right. "There are 80,000 hours of programming," says Carlson. "How many have controversy attached? Maybe 10." Attacks on public TV might also dissipate, Duggan says, when politicos recognize its popularity. "Our bipartisan poll says 80 percent of Americans have total confidence in public broadcasting."

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