PBS Chief: ‘Too Early to Tell’ Donald Trump’s Impact on Public Broadcasting

PBS Chief: 'Too Early to Tell'
Rahoul Ghose/PBS

PBS is bracing for the changing of the guard in Washington, D.C.

Speaking at the Television Critics Association winter press tour Sunday, PBS president and CEO Paula Kerger said that it was “too early to tell” what President-elect Donald Trump’s impact on federal funding for public broadcasting might be.

“We have periodically gone through periods where our funding has been at risk,” Kerger said. Funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting did not become a topic in the 2016 election — as it did in 2012, when Republican nominee Mitt Romney openly discussed eliminating CPB funding in a debate with President Obama. But House Speaker Paul Ryan has long been an advocate of eliminating such funding.

In 2016, the federal government provided $445 million to the CPB. The bulk of that money goes to operational costs at local stations.

“We work very hard talking to legislators about the importance of federal funding,” Kerger said. “It particularly is critical in parts of the country where citizens may not have access to information in other ways.” Kerger estimated that CPB money accounts for as much as 50 percent of funding for some smaller stations.

But, she added, the lobbying efforts that public broadcasters are now engaged in are similar to what occurs during any presidential administration change.

“Any time you have a change and there are new people coming into Washington, our stations in particular make a specific effort to make sure that we’re reaching out to make people understand who we are and what we are and what we accomplish at the community level,” she said.

Earlier Sunday, PBS announced that it would launch a family-night programming block on its new 24-hour children’s channel. The new PBS Kids channel will launch Monday in 107 U.S. markets.

“Believe it or not, there are many children who are up at night. Many are in hospitals,” Kerger said Sunday. She said that as the broadcaster explored what a new service would look like, it heard from caregivers who bemoaned a dearth of kids’ programming in the evening hours. “I don’t have to worry about ratings and whether if I switch to infommercials overnight I can make a buck. This is community service. Pure community service.”

PBS also Sunday announced several new science programs, including NOVA’s “Solar Eclipse,” set to premiere Aug. 21; “The Farthest,” about NASA’s Voyager mission; “Beyond a Year in Space,” about astronaut Scott Kelly’s stay in the International Space Station; and six new history, science, and nature limited series — “The Story of China,” “Big Pacific,” “Rare — Creatures of the Photo Ark,” “Weekend in Havana,” “Nature’s Great Race,” and “Great Yellowstone Thaw.”