When in doubt, call in the "Sesame Street" gang.
Broadcast union representatives, public interest groups and the cast of venerable children's show rallied outside the U.S. Capitol March 15 before delivering a petition to U.S. Senators with 1.2 million signatures in support of continued federal funding of public broadcasting.
In legislation to keep the government running an additional three weeks, Congress this week may vote to reduce by $50 million an increase in funding previously allocated to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to offset reduced public donations.
This year CPB, the organization that distributes parts of the federal largesse to non-profit media, is receiving $430 billion and has requested $445 billion for fiscal year 2012.
“The funding CPB receives goes to local radio and television states throughout the U.S. That gets lost in the current debate,” James C. Joyce, president of the National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians said at the rally, adding that for some public stations, federal dollars from the CPB make up 40 percent of the operating budget.
Joyce said that cutting funding this year would result in across the board layoffs among technicians and talent.
AFTRA national president Roberta Reardon, who said she saw her first opera on public television, said that public broadcasting is essential to educating and inspiring American society.
“I grew up in a small town in Indiana where everyone looks like me,” Reardon said. “I needed public television to become a better citizen.”
“Sesame Street” cast members described how the children’s program made a personal impact on their lives and livelihood.
“It has changed all of us and has given us as artists a place to work with such pride,” said Roscoe Orman, the voice of Gordon.
Even if CPB survives the ax this week, the fight isn’t over. Some opponents to federal funding say that with cable television and online broadcasting, taxpayer subsidized media is no longer necessary and that eliminating funding will help the country’s efforts reduce the federal deficit.
Republican lawmakers argue that the content produced by National Public Radio, which local broadcasters purchase with their federal subsidies, presents anti-conservative views.
Advocates say funding needs to continue because more than 43 million Americans don’t have access to cable television programming.
“We need a public trust so that we don’t have to continue to have public media funded through appropriations,” said Craig Aaron, managing director of Free Press, a non-profit organization that advocates on behalf of public media.
(Top: Roscoe Orman, Alison Bartlett O’Reilly and Bob McGrath at the rally. Bottom: U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), founding member of the congressional Public Broadcasting Caucus, at the rally.)