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PBS absolutely a real bargain

An open letter from the WTIU Station Manager with some information on federal funding for public broadcasting.

Big Bird

Dear Gov. Romney:

Since you mentioned PBS, Big Bird and Jim Lehrer so prominently in the first Presidential Debate, my colleagues and I have compiled some information on federal funding for public broadcasting.

Most federal dollars for public media don’t go to PBS or Sesame Street or The PBS NewsHour, they go to local stations like the one I manage — WTIU — and our sister radio station, WFIU. Nationwide, stations like ours hire thousands of people, buy local goods and services, and contribute millions of dollars to our local economies.

A survey by the bipartisan research firms of Hart Research and American Viewpoint in 2011 found that over two-thirds (69 percent) of American voters across the political spectrum oppose proposals to eliminate government funding of public broadcasting. This week, a Washington Times/Zogby Poll confirmed that.

A Harris Interactive poll found that Americans consider PBS the most-trusted public institution and the second-most-valuable use of public funds — behind only national defense — for the ninth straight year. But our annual appropriation is equal to what the Pentagon spends every six hours.

Numerous studies — including one requested by Congress earlier this year — have stated categorically that while the federal investment in public broadcasting is relatively modest, the absence of this seed money would cripple the system and bring its services to an end.

How modest? Including ALL our content — television, radio, mobile apps, podcasts and online — the cost is about $1.35 per person per year. If the federal budget were $100, public broadcasting’s share would be about a penny — one hundredth of one percent.

If everything in the federal budget had been cut by the same percentage that public broadcasting has already been cut the last two years, our budget would now be $500 billion lower.

Despite these cuts, 91 percent of all U.S. television households watch their local PBS station each year. We still provide resources to teachers for free, and 81 percent of all our children between the ages of 2-8 watch us — and learn from us.

WTIU is locally owned and community-focused. We work efficiently to make limited resources produce outstanding results. For every $1 of federal funding invested, we raise an additional $5.

In addition to being good public stewards, we are also good storytellers. Let me end with one of our best, Ken Burns.

Mr. Burns writes in the Washington Post about discussing with President Reagan his iconic series The Civil War:

“In the late 1980s, I had the honor of meeting President Ronald Reagan at a White House reception. I told him I was a PBS producer working on a history of the Civil War. His eyes twinkled as he recalled watching, as a young boy, parades of aging Union veterans marching down the main street of Dixon, Ill., on the Fourth of July. Then, in almost an admonishment, he spoke to me about the responsibility he saw for a private sector-governmental partnership when it came to public broadcasting and the arts and humanities. (His administration was very supportive of these long-standing institutions.) I told him that nearly a third of my budget for the Civil War series came from a large American corporation, a third from private foundations, and a third from the National Endowment for the Humanities, an agency then led by Lynne Cheney. He smiled and then held me by the shoulders, and his eyes twinkled again. ‘Good work,’ he said. ‘I look forward to seeing your film.’”

We will continue our good work on behalf of the American public. Thank you for your public service, and good luck with your campaign.

Phil Meyer

WTIU Station Manager

Indiana Public Media is a producer and distributor of public media from WFIU Public Radio and WTIU Public Television at Indiana University including your favorite programming from NPR and PBS.


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