PBS faces new threat in federal budget

By Elizabeth Jensen

New York Times News Service

Published: Sunday, Feb. 27 2011 12:00 a.m. MST

In a recent media blitz — corporation officials are officially prohibited from lobbying but not from making the case for public broadcasting — Harrison said that the late management guru Peter Drucker would approve of public broadcasters' frugal ways. She cited her experience running a small business as evidence that it was possible to cut too deeply, and equated public broadcasting to the Statue of Liberty, noting that even if Americans did not always visit, they wanted to know that it was there.

''It's not always about numbers," she said.

With 96 new House members and 20 new senators, Butler and Harrison say their biggest challenge is educating Congress. Butler, who began his job in January, had his duties expanded two weeks ago when the Association of Public Television Stations and NPR merged their lobbying efforts to create the Public Media Association.

To help with its efforts among legislators, the association has hired two Republican lobbyists. Nonetheless, Butler says his goal "is to make public broadcasting as American as apple pie," adding that "I don't want to make this a Democrat and Republican issue."

The fight over financing is likely to play out over the coming year, depending on how quickly Congress passes the 2011 budget and takes up the 2012 budget.

''I do believe in their heart of hearts they know it's a value and they know by getting rid of public media it's not going to make one iota's difference in the deficit, it's not going to create jobs, it's going to kills jobs," Harrison said. "I'm not irrationally exuberant, but I'm measuredly optimistic."

Blumenauer predicted that when the budget process was finished, "there may be some modest cut although the majority of the funding will be in place."

Gloomier assessments have speculated that broadcasters could lose as much as $100 million, or slightly less than 25 percent of what the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which disburses the money to public radio and television stations, received in the current fiscal year.

Paula A. Kerger, the president and chief executive of PBS, said that her organization had been fashioning various budget options to account for many possibilities. Under some, she said, initiatives she declined to name would be scaled back, but children's programming would probably be exempt.

Broadcasters are willing to take their lumps, Butler said. "We are not opposed to tightening belts here," he said, but added that cuts should be "something proportionate with what other people are being asked to do."

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