D.C. insiders predict rough sledding in Congress for the restructured funding of public TV suggested in a report Tuesday from the Twentieth Century Fund.
The report, “Quality Time?,” calls for phasing out the Corp. for Public Broadcasting’s annual community service grant process, which annually funnels about $ 125 million in federal coin directly to local public TV stations. Instead, the report recommends that money go into a fund for national programming.
Though large producing stations such as WGBH-TV, Boston, may embrace the restructuring proposal, the idea will get a cool reception from most public TV stations, said David Brugger, head of the Assn. of America’s Public Television Stations. That’s because smaller stations — those that rely on the community service grants for 20% or more of their annual revenue — will be leery of losing the funding base, he said.
Brugger said the task force made a “tactical error” by stressing the importance of phasing out the popular community service grants, in part because members of Congress are unlikely to support a funding reorganization proposal that’s unpopular with small stations.
Some pubcasting insiders expressed surprise that the Twentieth Century Fund — the New York-based group that bankrolled the report — was not more aggressive in seeking input from key congressional and Clinton administration policymakers.
Indeed, Federal Communications Commission member Ervin Duggan, a member of the task force, said, “Getting political power behind this report is problematic ,” because of the lack of input from D.C. powerbrokers. Duggan noted that only through the arm-twisting of President Johnson’s White House in the mid-1960s was Congress persuaded to create the Corp. for Public Broadcasting.
Duggan also said he has “real misgivings” about eliminating direct federal funding to local stations.
Twentieth Century Fund president Richard Leone said his group intends to distribute its report on Capitol Hill, but he conceded the org is not “relentless in pursuing its agenda.” Leone said the Twentieth Century Fund believes that “ideas still matter” and that restructuring public TV is an idea whose time has come.
The task force also calls for increased funding of public broadcasting via spectrum auctions or spectrum fees. Under the auction approach, new technologies that bid for the right to the broadcast spectrum would fork over part of the auction fee into a public broadcasting fund. Spectrum fees would require current spectrum users such as broadcasters to pay a percentage of annual gross revenues to support pubcasting.
The report proposes expanding public TV’s educational programming role, urges pubcasters to resist creeping commercialization and recommends the appointment of a non-partisan committee to nominate to the White House qualified candidates for the CPB board of directors.
Members of the Twentieth Century Fund task force included former NBC News prexy Lawrence Grossman, Action for Children’s Television founder Peggy Charren, Charles Revson Foundation prez Eli Evans and D.C. lawyer Henry Geller. Chairman of the task force was Brown U. president Vartan Gregorian.