U.S. House Pretends to Defund NPR


Earlier this month the Senate rejected a House plan to zero out funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Undeterred, the House has just passed a narrower bill [pdf] that would prevent federal funds from going to National Public Radio and would bar individual stations from using their federal grants to buy NPR programs or pay NPR dues. (The restrictions apply to other public radio networks as well.)

The AP quotes a congresswoman who opposes the idea:

Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y. said the bill was a "political stunt" that would put "rural communities at a major disadvantage in the information age." In many cases, public stations in rural and minority communities receive a higher percentage of their funds from the CPB.

Slaughter is half right. The bill is a stunt, since chances are negligible that this will pass the Senate. If the Republican Party was serious about getting public radio off the dole, it would have done something when it controlled both houses of Congress and the White House. Instead we had Ken Tomlinson's attempts to remake public broadcasting in the GOP's image. I realize that there are individual Republican reps, especially in the new Tea Party wave, who are serious about ending Washington's support for the CPB. My advice to them is seek out Democrats who'd like to cut those strings for their own reasons—basically, because they're sick of watching public broadcasters trim their sails for fear of what Republican politicians might do—and see if they can work out a left/right approach to cutting the CPB loose.

But Slaughter is wrong to imply that the bill would leave rural stations without government support. They'd just have to use that support to produce their own programs rather than buying shows from public radio networks. Not exactly a "major disadvantage."

A side note: The CPB isn't the only arm of the government that gives money to public broadcasters. There is also, for example, the Public Telecommunications Facilities Program, an operation in the Department of Commerce that funds facilities rather than content; it has done a lot of work on Indian reservations and places like that. Unlike the CPB, the PTFP actually stands a good chance of being eliminated this year. (The Obama administration has called for zeroing it out.) Far be it from me to endorse the program—the best that I can say about it is that it gives outlets one-time grants, as opposed to the CPB approach of locking stations into a dependent relationship with a ton of strings attached. But if you're really interested in defending subsidies to rural broadcasters, this cut should be on your radar screen. Nonetheless, the program's possibly pending death has been almost invisible in the debate. You might almost get the impression that these invocations of rural radio are less about helping broadcasters in outlying communities and more about giving cover to the handouts received by well-heeled NPR.