PBS, NPR chiefs drum for trust

The heads of the Public Broadcasting Service and National Public Radio have proposed establishing a trust fund to make the Corp. for Public Broadcasting self-sufficient from federal taxpayer support.

But there’s a hitch: under the plan, announced May 2, the coin used to bankroll the trust fund could come out of the hide of commercial broadcasters. In addition, the CPB itself is cool to the trust fund concept.

The proposal from NPR, PBS, the Assn. of America’s Public TV Stations and Public Radio International came after Republican leaders in Congress urged the industry to devise a plan to wean itself off the federal teat. CPB currently receives just under $300 million in annual support from Congress, or 14% of all revenue raised by public broadcasters.

As envisioned by PBS chieftain Ervin Duggan and NPR prez Delano Lewis, a $3 billion-to-$5 billion public broadcasting trust fund would be established over several years. Interest from the trust fund would throw off enough cash annually to make up for the loss of the nearly $300 million allocated by Congress to CPB.

The pubcasting execs tossed out a number of proposals for raising the trust fund money, including:

* a “transfer fee” tax on the sale of commercial TV stations;

* noncommercial spectrum leases;

* spectrum user fees on commercial broadcasters;

* diverting spectrum auction proceeds to the trust fund;

* allowing commercial broadcasters to avoid children’s programming obligations by paying into the trust fund.

The National Assn. of Broadcasters quickly denounced suggestions that commercial radio and TV stations should bail out their non-commercial brethren.

The CPB also refused to embrace the trust fund concept, leaving the industry splintered in its dealings with Capitol Hill. GPB’s plan suggested Congress should consider allowing more advertising to supplement reduced funding.

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