Rick Bentley

Will President Trump’s promise kill Big Bird?

Funding to keep programs such “Sesame Street” on the air could change.
Funding to keep programs such “Sesame Street” on the air could change. Associated Press file

President Donald Trump is looking at privatizing the public broadcasting agency and ending funding for both the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities as a way of cutting government spending. What that means is public television and radio will have to either raise all of the money through supporters needed to operate or find more alternative ways to generate the funds needed to continue to operate.

Federal funding for public television started with The Public Broadcasting Act when it went into effect 50 years ago. Since then, public television has received about $1.35 per person every year to help fund local public television. The rest of the money is generated through community support and sponsorships.

Any loss would hurt but wouldn’t immediately spell doom for public television, as funding through the Corporation for Public Broadcasting through the federal government represents about 15 percent of the money public television stations needs to operate. That percentage varies by markets, going as low as 7 percent in some areas to 50 percent in Alaska.

ValleyPBS operates on a budget where 20 percent comes from federal funding.

“If there are cuts, we will have to move quickly to look at all sources for raising money. Individual support has always been the most stable,” Phil Meyer, CEO and president of KVPT (Channel 18.1) says. “We would look at grants and foundations for support.”

The big question for local PBS affiliates would be how much time and resources should be spent replacing the federal money.

Meyer points out that the state of California provides no funding for public television. Vice President Mike Pence, when he was governor of Indiana, restored state funding for public television.

Another concern is that the president has promised to cut funding to the National Endowment for the Arts. That money is used to produce some of the top programs on public television, including “American Masters,” “Great Performances” and the Ken Burns documentaries.

Paula Kerger, public television president and CEO, told TV critics at their annual winter meetings that efforts have already started to keep funding in place.

“We’ve looked at this change, and change always presents a lot of uncertainty, and in this case, more uncertainty,” Kerger says. “We are spending time talking to as many people as we can, but particularly legislators, both sides of the aisle, the Senate and the House, to make sure that they understand the role that we play in civic discourse in this country, but also the role that we play in helping to reach those with content that we think will make a difference in their lives.”

Public television’s main argument has been the network provides educational programming to those who can’t afford cable. A survey by TVB, a company that offers local media marketing solutions, shows that 19.5 percent of TV viewers in the Fresno market watch television via an antenna while cable reaches 35.9 percent.

This isn’t the first time funding for public television has been threatened, and so far it’s weathered the storm. The attempts to end the funding date back to President Richard Nixon’s administration and as recently as a 2015 bill that the Republican-controlled House of Representatives rejected.

Public radio is looking at a possible change in how it gets a portion of its funds.

Local NPR affiliate KVPR (FM 89.3) gets 9.6 percent, approximately $196,000, of its annual budget from federal funding. Mariam Stepanian, president and general manager of Valley Public Radio, stresses that a loss of that money would create a hardship but the station would not go out of business.

“We would have to change the way we would do business. No one wants to go the commercial route, so we would have to raise more money,” Stepanian says.

If you want more information on how to support public television and radio, go to protectmypublicmedia.org.

Web work

KFCF, Fresno’s Free Speech Radio station, will launch its new website Saturday. The upgraded KFCF.org will feature more playlists, additional audio and other new elements.

Rychard Withers, executive director of the Fresno Free College Foundation, says the old website was difficult to use, but the new one makes it easier for the staff to make changes and update material.

Rick Bentley: 559-441-6355, @RickBentley1