Pubcasting cuts curtailed

House panel reduces cutbacks

A House committee restored $20 million of the $104.5 million previously cut from pubcasting’s federal funding, but advocates hope the full House will restore more when it votes on the pubcasting budget, possibly as early as next week.

The original funding reduction, which a subcommittee enacted last week, represented a 23% cut in pubcasting’s budget. Tuesday’s restoration brought that figure down to 17.4%, but some advocates feel that is still too steep.

“CPB and the public broadcasting community are … committed to the funding levels in our original request,” said Patricia Harrison, president and CEO of Corp. for Public Broadcasting, which administers pubcasting’s funds, in a statement.

“Anything less than full funding will not only present public broadcasting with an unfunded federal mandate to convert to digital broadcasting, it will also undermine its ability to both offer essential educational services and provide a backbone for a national emergency alert system,” the statement continued.

The restored $20 million ups pubcasting’s 2007 fiscal year allocation back to $400 million, instead of the $380 million preferred by the subcommittee. However, funds for PBS’ Ready to Learn program as well as for assisting pubcasters transition to digital TV remain zeroed out.

“Many of these (House) members decry indecency on television, but voted today to eliminate funding for noncommercial, educational programming for kids,” said John Lawson, prexy-chief of the Assn. of Public Television Stations, in a statement. “They call for improving education and teacher quality, but zero out funding that uses technology to bring professional development to teachers.”

According to CPB, the Senate isn’t likely to take up its version of legislation on pubcasting funds until July at the earliest. Typically, the Senate, which has always been more sympathetic to and supportive of pubcasting, restores the majority of funding cuts. But any bill the Senate delivers will have to be reconciled with differences in the House version.

With a federal deficit of hundreds of billions of dollars, cuts in federal spending are expected in many areas.

Separately, Kerger announced creation of an executive position — chief content officer — to be filled by pubcasting veteran John Boland. Boland, currently exec VP of San Francisco pubcaster KQED, “will direct television programming, new media, education and promotion. He will oversee the delivery of PBS’… content through PBS member stations, in classrooms and on multiple platforms, including online, on-demand and via the increasing array of digital devices.”

Since taking the helm of PBS last March, Kerger has repeatedly spoken of making pubcasting a player in all forms of media, particularly digital. The new position, PBS said, “reflects one element of Ms. Kerger’s plan to strengthen PBS’ ability to serve citizens in a multi-platform universe.”

A PBS spokeswoman said the position is not dependent on federal funding. Pubcasting gets about 85% of its budget from other sources.

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