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April 11, 2006

Who Really Pays for Public Broadcasting, Anyway?

National Public Radio’s supporters are fond of asserting that the network receives only a small portion of its annual funding from the federal government. NPR President Kevin Klose set the tone in a letter to The Washington Times (June 12, 2003): “NPR’s major source of support are [Sic.] its member stations, and only limited support — between 1 percent and 2 percent of our annual budget — comes even indirectly from the federal government through competitive grants.” Network proponents advance this minimal government support argument whenever Congress or the Corporation for Public Broadcasting threaten to review public broadcasters’ compliance with their statutory obligation of “strict adherence to objectivity and balance in all programs or series of programs of a controversial nature.”

Nevertheless, an important source of funding for NPR member stations — who then pay the network sizable programming and other fees — does come from the federal government by way of CPB. The entry “Who Pays For Public Broadcasting?” at CPB’s Web site (www.cpb.org/aboutpb/faq/pays.html) suggests disingenuousness by Klose and others who make the “less than 2 percent support” claim when trying to hold government overseers at bay.

CPB currently posts fiscal 2003 figures, which show federal grants and contracts at 3.9 percent — twice Klose’s “between 1 and 2 percent’ — of public broadcasting’s total revenue. But that is merely the iceberg’s tip.

Total public broadcasting revenue in 2003 was $2.3 billion. Total non-federal revenue was $1.9 billion, or 80.5 percent. But 15.5 percent, or $362 million, was provided by Congress through CPB. (The corporation is required by law to allocate 95 percent of its budget to local television and radio stations, programming, and improvements in the broadcasting system.) As noted above, a significant share of this 15.5 percent passes through the affiliates to NPR.

In fact, federal funds are, after individual and corporate donations (which make up 26 percent), the largest single source of support for public broadcasting. But government support doesn’t end there: state universities — which themselves receive federal funds — supply 13.6 percent of public broadcasting’s total revenue; local governments kick in another 2.4 percent; private colleges and universities — which also receive federal funds — are good for 1.6 percent, and other public colleges and universities supply another 1.1 percent. These figures don’t include big subsidies for conversion to digital broadcasting and network interconnection.

So, when NPR officials and others allege that by virtue of receiving merely “between 1 and 2 percent of our annual budget ... from the federal government” NPR is not “government” radio, they deploy a narrow truth to obscure a broad reality: Public broadcasting, with NPR as a major component, is in many respects government broadcasting. And governments have an obligation to account to taxpayers for expenditure of funds. NPR, as a recipient, cannot escape its own obligation to meet the law’s objectivity and balance standard. When it comes to Arab-Israeli reporting, NPR — as CAMERA has documented — too often has failed to uphold that standard. The failure comes at taxpayers’ expense.

Posted by ER at April 11, 2006 03:52 PM

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