PopPolitics: PBS President Paula Kerger on Why Rural Stations Will Be Hit Hardest by Threatened Public TV Cuts (Listen)

Paula Kerger on Why Rural Stations
Rahoul Ghose/PBS

WASHINGTON — Paula Kerger, the president of PBS, says that if federal funding for public broadcasting is eliminated, stations in rural parts of the country will be the hardest hit.

On the latest edition of Variety‘s “PopPolitics” on SiriusXM, Kerger says that about 80 stations “would be especially vulnerable.”

“Those stations would not exist,” she states. “There isn’t the philanthropic base in those communities to support public television. So what you end up with if the federal funding goes away is that you will have communities that will have local television stations and those that would not.”

President Donald Trump has proposed eliminating federal funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which in recent years has run about $445 million. A majority of that money goes to stations, not directly to PBS, even though there often are misconceptions of how public television is financed.

“In previous budget debates there has been the use of Big Bird as a symbol,” Kerger says. “The reality is Sesame Workshop, which produces ‘Sesame Street,’ receives no funding from the federal government for the production of the series that airs on television. The funding goes largely to the stations across the country. I think also there is a misperception that we are wholly government funded, that also is not true.”

But there are stations that have a greater dependence on federal funding. Kerger cited a station in Cookeville, Tenn., which received about 30 percent of its budget from federal dollars. The general manager at that station, Kerger says, has made it “very clear that if funding goes away, [the] station has really no sustainable path forward.” She cited a poll showing strong support for continued federal funding of public broadcasting, even among those who voted for Trump.

PBS has faced threatened federal budget cuts before, but Kerger says that this is an “unusual” year in that there are so many dynamics at work on Capitol Hill as Congress debates its next budget. The House Appropriations Committee approved funding, but the House Budget Committee, however, recommends zeroing out the federal funding.

Listen here and below:

One of the arguments for eliminating federal funding is the notion that the private sector will make up the difference. But Kerger points to past efforts to create commercial networks similar to PBS.

“All I have to do is point you to cable channels that were created as a commercial version of public television,” she says. “No one remembers that TLC used to stand for The Learning Channel. No one remembers that A&E used to stand for Arts & Entertainment when it was first created.” She added that such channels “produce good programming by the way, so I am not knocking TLC or A&E  or any of the others, but their programming does not look like public broadcasting. There are important ideas, there are important stories that should be shared, and those are not always represented by the commercial marketplace.”

Listen below:

The Backstory Behind Russian Adoption in ‘To the Moon and Back’

The topic of Russia’s ban on adoptions has gotten entangled in coverage of the Trump-Russia investigation and, before that, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s retaliation for U.S. sanctions put in place in 2012.

Susan Morgan Cooper’s “To the Moon and Back” is a documentary project that looks at the human backstory to Russia’s ban on adoptions, looking at American families that had already bonded with Russian children yet had yet to complete the process when the restrictions were put in place. She also talks to Miles Harrison, who with his wife Carol adopted a Russian child, Chase, before the ban was put in place. But they lost their child after Harrison mistakenly left him in his car while he was at work. Cooper got the Harrisons to sit for an emotional interview featured in her project, as Miles seeks legislation to improve car safety to prevent such tragedies from occurring.

Listen here.

Also, Cooper and Harrison talk about the frustration of telling the backstory of the Russia adoption ban in the current political environment.

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“PopPolitics,” hosted by Variety’s Ted Johnson, airs from 2-3 p.m. ET/11-noon PT on SiriusXM’s political channel POTUS. It also is available on demand.