Trump Tries, Tries Again to Defund Noncom Media

If at first (and second and third) you don't succeed... Well, for the fourth budget in a row, President Donald Trump is attempting to phase out the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) and the federal funding for public media it allocates. 

In the 2021 budget released Monday (Feb. 10), all but wind-down costs of $30 million would be axed to conduct "an orderly transition away from Federal funding." 

Currently, the 2021 allocation is $465 million (CPB is forward funded in an attempt to depoliticize it). So far, thwarting the President's goal has been a bipartisan exercise, with Republicans joining Democrats to support noncom funding and even increase it in the 2021 allocation. 

The White House pointed out in its latest salvo against Big Bird ed al. that federal funding makes up only 15% of noncom funding, funding it calls durable and that negates the need for "continued federal subsidies." 

The White House said that PBS and NPR, which get federal money, could make up the shortfall by increasing revenue from corporate sponsors, foundations and members. It also pointed to the rise of other programming options since the Corporation for Public Broadcasting was created in 1967. 

“The federal appropriation to CPB is the foundation of our uniquely American, public-private partnership that supports our nation’s public media system -- a system of more than 1,500 locally controlled and operated public television and radio stations across the country," said CPB president Patricia Harrison. "This seed money pays invaluable dividends to millions of Americans and their families in the form of content and resources that educate, inform and inspire. 

“Through public media initiatives such as American Graduate and Ready To Learn, stations provide high-quality educational content and community engagement that helps Americans prepare for success in school and career," said Harrison. "As the most trusted news source in America, local public media stations offer journalism that elevates local stories to a national audience. Further, public media stations’ infrastructure provides critical communications functions during local and national emergencies to first responders and emergency management officials." 

“Slashing the Corporation for Public Broadcasting’s funding is hardly a surprising move from a president who believes the press is the enemy of the American people, and who seeks to punish any journalist who asks challenging questions of his administration," said Free Press Action campaign director Candace Clement. “But Trump’s threats ignore the real value and widespread popularity of publicly funded noncommercial media. At its best, public-interest media provides an antidote to the misinformation and propaganda spread by online platforms and commercial outlets. People throughout the United States benefit from the federal investment in public media, even though stations receive far less than their counterparts in leading democracies." 

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.