‘PBS Will Not Go Away,’ Says Its CEO of Federal Budget Debate… But Some Local Stations Might

TCA 2017: “If that money goes away, it’s an existential crisis for those stations,” PBS President Paula Kerger says

Last Updated: August 7, 2017 @ 4:26 PM

PBS President and CEO Paula Kerger gave an update on the network’s place in the ongoing federal budget debate, warning that if Congress does not agree to continue funding public broadcasting, it could have serious ramifications on PBS and its affiliate stations.

“This is what I believe would happen if the federal funding goes away,” Kerger said at the Television Critics Association press tour on Sunday. “PBS will not go away, but a number of our stations will.”

The budget proposed by the Trump administration earlier this year completely eliminated federal funding for public broadcasting. As the process has moved through Congress, the House Appropriations Committee and the House Budget Committee have split on whether or not to continue funding public broadcasting — both television and radio. The debate will continue “after the August recess,” Kerger said.

The executive reiterated the argument that the biggest impact of the loss of federal funding would come in the rural parts of the country that rely most on PBS’s programming. She singled out Alaska as one state that would likely feel the effects the heaviest, given the number of communities which do not have access to cable or broadband.

“If you are a station for whom 50 percent of your funding, 40 percent of your funding or 30 percent of your funding is suddenly pulled away, there’s no way you can make up that money,” she said. “You will find big parts of the country will suddenly be without public broadcasting. And I would argue many communities that rely the heaviest on our work.”

The current allotment for public broadcasting is about $450 million, which has held steady in recent years, about two-thirds of which goes to television, Kerger said. The bulk of that money is allotted to local stations through community service grants, paying for basic operational expenses.

“There isn’t a Plan B for that,” Kerger said. “And so, I think for all of us in public media, we have linked arms to try to make an effective case for what’s at risk if that disappears.”