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,
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
"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