Updated at 3:50 p.m. Feb. 14, 2018
The general manager of San Diego’s KPBS on Tuesday called on viewers and listeners to speak up for public broadcasting amid the latest threat to its federal funding.
Tom Karlo, a member of the Public Broadcasting Service board of directors, says KPBS and others at the San Diego State-based outlet “will continue talking with our members of Congress and remind them that investment in public media is an investment in children’s educational, cultural, public affairs and news programming, digital classroom resources, teacher training and distance learning.”
On Tuesday, he called such funding — $450 million a year threatened with near elimination by President Trump’s fiscal 2019 budget plan — “an investment in the people of the United States.”
Nearly a year ago, Karlo faced similar worries but said: “I don’t want to cry wolf at this point because I don’t know what’s going to happen. There’s going to be a lot of pressure and lobbying.”
The “zero-out” cuts didn’t happen. But lobbying renews in earnest this year, since KPBS can’t count on a $3 million annual federal infusion as it did in 2017 — in the second of a two-year allocation.
Karlo, in his 45th year at the station, said PBS is encouraging supporters of public media to sign up on Protect My Public Media (ProtectMyPublicMedia.org) and “become an advocate.”
“We also ask our viewers and our listeners to inform their members of Congress of the importance of public broadcasting,” he told Times of San Diego.
What advice is Karlo giving PBS?
He called for public media to stay united in its messaging.
“This includes PBS, NPR, all of our independent producers and more,” Karlo said via email. “We need to remain steadfast in telling the story of public broadcasting as America’s education classroom, as America’s stage for arts and culture programs, and for America’s classroom for history.”
Former San Diego Union-Tribune radio and TV writer Preston Turegano recalled public broadcasting’s history — starting in the 1960s when it was called “educational TV.”
“It was a forum for intellectuals,” he said. “It was the cultural TV oasis where devotees of opera, symphony, dance/ ballet, and theater could tune into. That became even more important after the TV cable networks A&E and Bravo abandoned performing arts presentations in favor of mindless reality shows.”
Turegano worried that Trump’s plan, if enacted by Congress, would force PBS stations to “air more annoying infomercials to generate revenue. On-air membership pledge periods, especially the ones that interrupt quality programs, will increase, as will traditional 30-second and minute-long commercials of products or services.”
KPBS gets about 13 percent of its money from *CPB, so would not be hurt as much as other stations.
Turegano said the Republican Party is targeting public broadcasting because it appeals to Americans “who want true fair and balanced reporting of events and issues, especially political.”
Paula Kerger, president and CEO of PBS, noted in a statement Monday that public broadcasting has earned bipartisan congressional support over the years and from every region of the country.
She said the 350 member stations and supporters will remind Washington that “a modest investment of about $1.35 per citizen per year” yields school readiness for kids 2-8, support for teachers and homeschoolers, public safety communications and lifelong learning.
Trump’s $4.4 trillion budget proposes to eliminate federal funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting over a two-year period.
“CPB grants represent a small share of the total funding for the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) and National Public Radio (NPR), which primarily rely on private donations to fund their operations,” says a budget “justifications” document.
“To conduct an orderly transition away from federal funding, the budget requests $15.5 million in 2019 and $15 million in 2020, which would include funding for personnel costs of $16.2 million; rental costs of $8.9 million; and other costs totaling $5.4 million.”
The budget addendum said CPB funding comprises about 15 percent of the total amount spent on public broadcasting, with the remainder coming from nonfederal sources, “with many large stations raising an even greater share.”
“This private fundraising has proven durable,” said the budget, “negating the need for continued federal subsidies.”
It said PBS and NPR could make up the shortfall by increasing revenues from corporate sponsors, foundations and members.
KPBS lists about 275 “corporate sponsors,” including arts, educational and nonprofit groups.
“In addition,” the budget said, “alternatives to PBS and NPR programming have grown substantially since CPB was first established in 1967, greatly reducing the need for publicly funded programming options.”
For the year ended June 30, 2017, KPBS listed total operating revenues of $25.1 million, with CPB grants of nearly $3.3 million.
“Contributions increased $642,000 in FY17 resulting primarily from net increases in Membership & Producers Club $612,000, Outreach programs $307,000, Vehicle Donations $188,000, Special Events $180,000 and Major Gifts $154,000, offset by reductions in Planned Giving $346,000, Underwriting $248,000 and $205,000 in other revenue categories,” said Grant Thornton in a November 2017 audit.
*Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said KPBS got 13 percent of its money from PBS.