Paula A. Kerger, president and chief executive officer of the Public Broadcasting Service, has been dealing with one of the biggest threats to public television in its 48-year history because of President Donald Trump’s promise to cut funding. Every one of the 350 member stations depend on federal funding for a portion of their budgets.
One of Kerger’s biggest arguments for the need to continue the funding are stations like Fresno’s KVPT (Channel 18.1).
Kerger got to know the workings of ValleyPBS during a two-day stay in Fresno that included meeting with children, parents, board members and donors. The trip was capped off with the 40th anniversary gala for KVPT held Wednesday, in Clovis.
“This is a pretty amazing station,” Kerger said before the gala. “If one needs an argument of why we need federal appropriations, I would point to this station.
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“If their federal finding goes away, they will be in real serious trouble. Will they fold? Probably not. Will they be profoundly different in the service they will be able to provide? Absolutely.”
The arguments to save PBS in the past have focused on national programming like “Sesame Street.” Kerger has seen a shift, and now what local affiliates are doing to connect with their communities have become the main arguments for continued funding.
Although Kerger has been the top officer for PBS since 2006, she has worked in public television for 25 years. She’s seen other threats to funding, but this is one of the most unnerving because the potential cuts comes at such an uncertain time.
“It’s hard to figure out how this is going to play out,” Kerger says.
KVPT gets 20 percent of its annual budget from the federal government. That’s slightly higher than the national average of 15 percent. Some stations like the PBS affiliates in Alaska can get as much as 50 percent of their budget from the government. Kerger is certain the stations that would be the most deeply affected by funding cuts would be those that do little more than show the national programming provided by PBS.
Stations that are working hard to reflect their communities through locally produced programming and outreach programs – such as those being done at KVPT – will have a better chance of survival because they better reflect the needs of their communities.
KVPT has become more aggressive in producing local programming including documentaries on internment camps and water. One of the major focuses by KVPT is an outreach program to preschoolers. More than 82 percent of local children – twice the national average – have no access to preschool either because of a lack of programs in their area or family hardships that make it impossible to attend.
“What KVPT has done is they have taken advantage of how they have boots on the ground, volunteers and staff who are engaging with kids – particularly high-risk kids – and reaching out to parents,” Kerger says. “When I talked to a group this morning – translated for me because my Spanish is not that good – they thanked me for what the station is doing.”
Helping KVPT and the other 349 affiliate stations continue their work through the aid of federal money is one of the major concerns for Kerger.
She hopes that if the federal funding does go away, the community will step up and provide more support.
“They (KVPT) are on a great path right now, and if they continue to get to build on that, I think they will do great things for the community,” Kerger said.