Update on Federal Funding (March 2017)

Mar 20, 2017

3/21/2017 Update from President & General Manager Cary Boyce

Dear Listeners: 

I’ve received many questions lately about federal funding for public broadcasting.  It’s true a preliminary White House budget calls for the elimination of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) along with several other agencies such as NEA, NEH, Meals on Wheels, and so on.  Such federal budget decisions are ultimately the responsibility of Congress, and many debates will yet take place before anything is settled.  While it’s still early, as the general manager of Spokane Public Radio I am naturally concerned.  There is reason to be.

The cost in federal funds for public media nationally comes to $1.35 per person per year.  Public radio’s percentage is 30 cents of this.  At Spokane Public Radio, CPB funding averages 11 percent of our annual operating budget. Nationally, that’s about average, and we are working steadily to reduce this reliance.  We raise the rest of our necessary operating funds locally in membership and underwriting dollars, grants, and a smattering of other revenue streams. 

Most of our expenses go to purchase programming from excellent content providers including NPR—one of the best and most trusted sources of news in the world.  National and international coverage is expensive and offers a low financial return on investment, which is why many commercial media companies avoid such coverage altogether or do a cursory job of it.  Public media is mission driven to bring you information about what’s going on in the world.  SPR brings NPR’s service —along with local and regional news, education, music, entertainment, special events, as well as critical weather, civil emergencies, and breaking news—to 1.1 million people in 750 communities across 20,000 square miles of the Inland Northwest.

Someone recently asked, (to summarize a bit) “Should a coal miner in West Virginia or a single mother in Detroit pay for these programs?”  If we think this through, I think his question is really, “Do people in trying economic circumstances deserve affordable ($1.35/year each) access to information, news, educational programs, and entertainment?”  Of course there is always cable, and choice is preferable to no choice.  You be the judge, but make no mistake—the poorest regions and most vulnerable citizens are the most likely to lose this public media service, sometimes the only service, if CPB funding disappears.

Federal funding is a worthwhile debate, but let’s be clear on what the CPB debate is really about:  At .01 percent of the federal budget, elimination of CPB would do next to nothing to balance it.  Some may object to public broadcasting because it occasionally reports uncomfortable news and views that we (you, me, sometimes both) find disagreeable.  However, public broadcasting was established with bi-partisan support with exactly this in mind:  Public media’s mandate is to report the news, to hold our officials accountable, and to offer fair and balanced perspectives on complex issues.  If you don’t like the view you’ve just heard, please stay tuned. Public media can only broadcast one side of things at a time, and you are likely to hear another side of an issue shortly.  It’s not perfect at this—but it strives to be.

Public media in America is unique in the world.  It helps unite Americans around open discussion and verifiable information—facts, stories, history, science, art, education, communication, technology, culture—a wide array of topics that affect our nation, our world, and our communities.  Public media helps us understand ourselves and our world, sometimes during extraordinarily challenging and difficult times.  This is the nature of our service.  It’s my profound hope we can keep it that way, for today, for tomorrow, and for future generations.  You can find more information below.  

--Cary Boyce, President and General Manager, Spokane Public Radio

The White House proposal for the federal budget

The Public Broadcasting Act of 1967

Comments from Corporation for Public Broadcasting CEO Patricia Harrison:

Let your voice be heard at Protect My Public Media