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Sunday, October 23, 2016

Big Bird Debate: How Much Does Federal Funding Matter To Public Broadcasting?

Big Bird Debate: How Much Does Federal Funding Matter To Public Broadcasting?

by Suevon Lee, ProPublica

Are Big Bird’s 15 minutes up yet? Last week, Mitt Romney pulled public broadcasting into the presidential campaign when he said he would “stop the subsidy” to PBS, despite his love for the furry yellow Muppet.

The remark launched endless Internet memes, fueled late-night television jokes and spawned a satirical Obama campaign ad (which the Sesame Workshop, a private, non-partisan charitable organization, has requested the campaign pull). Given the recent flurry of attention, we thought it would be helpful to examine how much federal funding actually affects public broadcasting.

How large is the federal subsidy to public broadcasting?

It’s not exactly breaking the bank. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the entity created by Congress in 1967 to disperse funds to non-profit broadcast outlets like PBS and NPR, is set to receive $445 million over the next two years. Per a statutory formula, public television gets about 75 percent of this appropriation while public radio receives 25 percent.

This amounts to roughly .012 percent of the $3.8 trillion federal budget—or about $1.35 per person per year. Some global perspective: elsewhere in the world, Canada spends $22.48 per citizen, Japan $58.86 per citizen, the United Kingdom $80.36 per citizen, and Denmark, $101 per citizen.

This sounds like a drop in the bucket. Why would Romney focus on such a small figure?

Because Romney’s approach is to target every government program he thinks is “not essential.” The candidate’s current spending plan not only calls for eliminating Obamacare and privatizing Amtrak, but deep reductions in subsidies to CPB and cultural agencies such as the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities—expenditures he says are “things the American people can’t afford.”

Public broadcasting also happens to be a popular target among conservatives, who’ve long portrayed it as an example of wasteful government spending—in the mid-90s, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich proposed pulling federal funding from the CPB altogether.

Romney’s no exception on the campaign trail. As ABC News’ The Note reports, last week’s debate wasn’t the first time Romney has suggested Sesame Street seek outside advertisers to earn its keep. At a campaign stop last December, Romney told voters, “we’re not going to kill Big Bird, but Big Bird’s going to have to have advertisements, all right?”

How crucial is federal funding to public broadcasting?

Sesame Workshop’s executive vice president told CNN last week that the company receives “very, very little funding from PBS.” Indeed, the non-profit generated nearly two-thirds of its $133 million revenue in 2010 from royalties and product licensing alone, according to its website. Its executives are also handsomely compensated: former CEO and president Gary Knell (who now runs NPR) earned $718,456 in executive pay plus $270,000 in bonuses in 2010. So, as the Washington Post points out, Big Bird doesn’t exactly depend on the federal government for survival.

PBS draws roughly 15 percent of its revenue from the CPB. NPR’s revenue mostly comes from member station dues and fees, with 2 percent coming from CPB-issued grants. Member stations, in turn, receive about 11 percent in federal grants. According to this CPB report, most revenue to both public radio and television (about 59 percent) consists of donations from individuals, corporate underwriters and private grants, followed by state and local support (roughly 20 percent).

But from a leverage standpoint, PBS says it’s pretty important. Each federal dollar local stations receive generates roughly six dollars from local sources as a type of bargaining chip, according to a coalition of public broadcasting stations, producers and viewers.

Are there downsides to scaling back federal funding?

Yes. While shows like “Sesame Street” may remain safe under Romney’s plan, its viewers in remote areas wouldn’t fare as well. Public television and radio stations in poor, rural areas depend the most on federal support to survive. So while large public television markets producing more than $10 million in annual revenue require just 10 percent of federal funds to get by, its counterparts in small towns like Bethel, AL, or Odessa, TX, may very well need up to four times that much to operate.

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Copyright 2012 The National Memo
  • We need to turn this whole spending debate on its head or we’re going to have our entire economy collapse someday. Do you morons not understand we’re spending ONE TRILLION dollars a year more than we’re taking in? Do you comprehend how irresponsible that is? Then someone proposes cutting a program that’s .01% of the budget and we get countless articles full of ridiculous analysis of all kinds of questions surrounding the consequences. Don’t you see you’re making my point? We currently tax the hell out of our people and corporations so I’m not listening to talk of raising taxes and we live in a dangerous world that will only become more dangerous if we cut our military, so I’m not listening to talk of cutting defense. Now let’s talk about cutting into the huge federal bureaucracy and countless giveaway programs that are racing out of control and have no constitutional basis. We need to get a majority of Americans comfortable with cutting the size of government of we’re through.

    • Taxes in this country have not been so low since the end of WWII. GE among many other large corporations pay zero (0)in federal corporate taxes. Our military spending is higher than our so-called allies combined. The cuts only bring the Pentagon back to 2007 levels. Perhaps you don’t recall, but in 2007 we were number ONE and with the small cuts being spoken of our military will still be number ONE. Governments over the past two years have cut over a half a million jobs…most of those teachers. Must I go on.

      • dtgraham

        Lynda, I’m glad you responded to Raul or I was going to. Obviously we’re going to disagree on values and priorities (that’s politics) but you can’t have a country with so many citizens–read conservatives– completely wrong on so many of the facts.

      • Ed

        GE not only does not pay taxes, they also get a huge government subsidy, besides the huge government contracts they hold(no bid of course). And then Welsh sent jobs overseas. This is the corporate world of the 21 st. century.

    • Tax the hell out of our people is utter crap!! People in the U.S. pay the lowest tax rates of any industrialized non sociaistic country on the planet..Darn I’m so tired of hearing from cry babies like you!! If you don’t like what you’re being taxed here, find some other industrialized country like the U.S. and move there but stop you’re damn whinning!! If you don’t like the trillion dollar deficits, then write a nasty letter to Reagan’s decendents and the two nitwit Bushes who ran up over 85% of the current debt!! These supposedly conservative nitwit Republicans are nothing more than robber barons with the intent today to start wars and cut taxes that are already generating the lowest revenues that the country has had in the last 75 years just so they can funnel more money to the defense industry where companies that produce everything needed to run a war: equipment, troop support, fuel for the equipment, etc etc can rip the government off by overcharging for everything…sometimes hundreds and thousands of dollalrs for something that should cost $10.

    • Ed

      Don’t know how old you are, but federal taxes are the lowest they have ever been. If your state and local taxes are kiling you perhaps you should either tune to public TV or turn the tv off and attend your town/city council meetings. Politicians LOVE holding their meetings in front of sparse crowds, like 5 – 15 people. That allows them to do as they please with minimum push back. But if you pay attention you might be amazed at what your state/municipality is funding. For instance, in my home state 1 out of every 10 state police troopers serves as a chauffer for the political class, all in the name of Homeland Security. Troopers base pay starts at 82,00 per year.

      • anyasnote

        Ed and Others YOU CAN’T EDUCATE the IGNORANT, they will never acknowledge that they are wrong or don’t know anything. For them sky is Green if R/R says even if facts prove to be BLUE. Raul is one of them, he can’t see trees as a forest, he see it as a firewood. LOL.
        YES U R RIGHT, AMERICANS PAY THE LOWEST TAX RATE IN THE WORLD AND SPEND THE MOST ON MILITARY and still with all this power we DID not conquer the barefooted Afghanistan fighters. who operates on the minimum cost and most damaging results to US. Got my drift????
        Raul NEVER been to anywhere and HE doesn’t KNOW anything and whatever R/R says or what they said and when they said and whatever they meant is a Gospel. Hahahahahaha. By his name he should move to Mexico, they too pay more in taxes taxes on low wages than Romney on his millions.

    • ralphkr

      Raul, I shall listen to your complaint about the US taxing the hell out our people when we once again raise the top rate to 94% from the current 35% and to 23% from the current 0% for people making up to $2K with it applying across the board whether single or married and after closing all the loop holes that currently allows businesses such as GE to pay less than 2% taxes the last 10 years when GE paid under $1.5 BILLION taxes on $80.2 BILLION in US profits 2002 through 2011(OK, I want GE’s accountants to do my taxes from now on).

  • Public funding pays for part of the educational and cultural programs broadcast by PBS and NPR. The reason the GOP opposes that media is because it gives equal time to both sides of the political spectrum.

    • Ed

      Yep, that and the facts that the public meium shines the spotlight on the rottenest part of our democracy, the parts the 1 % ignore. Truth is never welcome.

  • digoweli

    We think of public broadcasting as an issue of children’s programs. But anyone confronted by the vast desert of banal commercial radio and television across the land knows that PBS funds serious culture and American identity on the airways.

    There is no other Common for the classical, “one of a kind” “high end” cultural products for the poor and middle class other than PBS. And if you think that doesn’t matter, answer two questions. 1. Why do the bulk of classical musicians and great performing artists come from the lower classes while the upper classes try to learn no more than four insipid chords and get on to the stage at Dolly land? 2. What is it about high end classical music that makes the wealthy want to own (but not do) what cannot be owned by cash but only by competence?

    PBS, along with the NEA, is a return to the tradition of the peasants and serfs who came to America trained as musicians and performing artists in the manors of the aristocracy. They were experts at Shakespeare, Donizetti and Rossini, Schubert and Beethoven.

    One should remember that the wealthy who started the regional American opera companies and the great museums like the Getty were not from the elite but from the poor of society. They did great things while their descendants had their creativity cut by their lack of need.

    PBS restores quality to the lower classes for the good of all. Instead of “Demand” providing the impetus, these conservatives should study their own heroes more. Not the contemporary shallow ones like the entitled Kochs but their founders. John Baptiste Say is the Founder of contemporary conservative thought.

    He said: “Only supply creates demand!” Merely following demand is merely following what people imagine and that is usually ignorant.

    PBS creates a demand for quality in those who listen and watch. It’s no more about children’s programming than the Beatles were about Beethoven and Symphony orchestras.

    I’m one of those. I was born in the Chickasaw Nation and grew up in the Quapaw Nation in Oklahoma. Picher, Oklahoma, my hometown, had the worst lead and heavy metal pollution in the nation. But we had great music and music rescued us. The town is no more but our graduates are in great orchestras, opera and dance companies around the world. They moved from the lower 15% of the nation’s students to the 88% with a 98% graduation. Most of the students graduated from college. The spirit of the school was its Arts and Sports programs. The learning and challenge of serious practice and aural patterning skills defeated both the poverty and the poison.

    America suffers from a poverty of spirit and a shallowness of competence in the present. The only answer is a return to formal training in the complex, high end skills that develop the human body as an instrument. PBS and the NEA are the American people’s recognition that spirit is as important as mammon.

    America has as much wealth as she needs to do with. The largest military cannot protect us from our own ignorance, lack of sophistication and disconnectedness from the cultures of the world. That is the spirit of the Taliban not of our own ancestors here.

    • Ed

      “The largest military cannot protect us from our own ignorance”! Brilliant, should be on billboards on every road in America. AT the present time it appears that Americans are happy to be ignorant.

  • Ed

    “Privatise AMTRAK”? I believe Mittens is old enough and and smart enough to remember that AMTRAK was created because the private sector couldn’t make a profit and wanted to give up service. So Mitt either wants to abolish all Rail Transport on the Northeast corridor(as well as throughout the nation) or he wants the governemnt to subsidise private industry. Giving up service would seriously disrupt the social and economic fabric as their are too many commuters traveling on various trains from Boston to Washington to allow a collpse of the railroad; so he must mean he wants a subsidy to the private sector. One of the main republican complaints to the governemnt providing services is “nobody is profiting from it except the recipients. No one is making money!”

  • Ed Mays

    I`m a conservative Republican and I watch PBS and listen to NPR for the informative, educational and just plain old enjoyment of news, dramas, music, culture, enrichment everywhere. Hands off my PBS, Mr. Romney!

    • Thank you for the comment Mr. Mays. I have found that most Republicans I know find substantial material of intrest on both NPR and PBS. It is programming the the commercial broadcasters do not chose to support in thier drive for profits. These fine programs would not be available widely without the goverments partial support of these not for profit organization. I wish more members of your party would make your views known to your elected leaders.

    • FredAppell

      Ed, would you be able to shed some light on their thinking because I really don’t see much political discourse when I tune into NPR. They really do provide a very important service to all of us. You sound more like the Teddy Roosevelt conservative than the Grover Norquist conservative. Thank you.

  • onedonewong

    WHY?? are you serious. Romney has said if there isn’t a pressing need for any program then it should be defunded. PBS is nothing more than the Politburo brainwashing outletfor the left wing nuts. If the left wing wants a TV station or a radio station do what every American does go “Build one”

  • ralphkr

    PBS/NPR play an extremely important role in the US because not everyone is able to access BBC to learn what is really happening in the world. I love the Canadian talking heads who seem to actually pay attention to what they are saying, and often insert their own comments, unlike our talking heads who only pay attention to the “feel good” stories and are scared to death to make an intelligent critical comment on whatever stupidity they are repeating at their conservative employers behest (while the ultra-conservative ignoramuses keep screaming about the liberal media which is mostly run by conservatives).

    If we wish to save money by cutting subsidies how about nailing those who are really sucking on the public teat such as GE, Exon, BofA, Chase, Wells Fargo, and the beat goes on. I can remember the day when the top rate was over 90% and there were not the myriad loop holes available now so most of the ultra-wealthy (corporate & private) actually paid some taxes and I even was paying Fed & state taxes on my $1,800 a year (could buy least 10 times what it could now) and unemployment was under 4%. Compare today’s unemployment rate with the current low top tax rate, which no one pays due to the many loop holes available, to the 4% unemployment rate with over 90% top tax rate and you can see exactly how much lower taxes helps create jobs.

  • chuckmcvinney

    You are right in the analysis but too kind in the implications. Romney and his ilk are scared of public information – and information and education delivered competently – for all their nonsense talk about improving education, all they want is to control it – Karl Rove style. The notion of a publicly funded news and information gathering network that might actually delve into truth, and, as Moyers would say, eliminate the “other side” when there isn’t one scares the daylights out of people with their rigid idealogies and basic fear of freedom – once again, no matter what they say. By the way – the BBC, despite some its struggles with the same no-nothing-scared-of-the-people faction in UK, continues as a model for getting real information into the hands of Brits- and may I add, the rest of the world, including USA, where without BBC there is a lot we still would not know about going on in the world.

  • alumahead

    PBS does some of the best work out there. Romney is a heartless prick.

  • Romney wants to cut off funding for Public Broadcasting and increase the Military budget because he and his rich friends can’t make money on Public Broadcasting, but they can rake in billions through the Military Industrial Complex.

  • pbs is in with the socialists that want to indoctrinate our children. No more tax money for these commies.