Thinking Inside the Box

Congress Listens -- and Continues Public Broadcasting Funding

by Ellis Bromberg, General Manager of MPTV


Hello, Ellis Bromberg with more "Thinking Inside the Box."

Some two months ago, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill that would have eliminated all federal funding for public broadcasting; it could have meant a loss of about 10 percent of the Milwaukee Public Television budget, and significant cutbacks in our local programming and services. For dozens and dozens of other public radio and television stations across the country -- many more dependent than we are on federal funds -- it could have meant going dark.

But in mid-April, Congress instead approved a compromise bill that preserves the vast majority of these dollars. We went from the threat of total elimination of federal funding to the preservation of about 93% of the appropriation. We will be subject to fair, across the board cuts, but public broadcasting was not singled out. And that was the right thing for Congress to do.

Early in April, I was in Washington with other local public broadcasting officials meeting with our senators and representatives. And it became clear to me that it was you, our viewers and supporters, who changed the mind of Congress.

Many of you logged on to the 170MillionAmericans.org website, found out for yourselves the facts about federal funding, and spoke up, calling and e-mailing your representatives. (It's called 170MillionAmericans.org, by the way, because that's the number of citizens, voters, and children who are educated, entertained, and inspired every month by public broadcasting stations, websites, and events: 170 million Americans.)

Several important points we shared with our congressional delegation, and I want you to be aware of, too:

1) Funding for all of public broadcasting, radio and television nationwide, costs each citizen about $1.35 each year. Yes, just $1.35. And that funding makes up only 1/100th of 1 percent of the federal budget. Ending funding for public broadcasting would have virtually no impact on the federal debt, but it could have had a devastating effect on public broadcasting programming and services you value here and around the country. It is a bad idea.

2) 89 cents of each dollar appropriated comes back to local community-based stations like ours for educational programming for children, informational programming for adults; it doesn't go to some big bureaucracy in Washington. It means local programming, local outreach, community engagement serving some two million citizens in southeastern Wisconsin and northern Illinois. With that funding, public television is America's largest classroom and its greatest stage.

and 3) A national Hart Research poll taken in February concluded that nearly 70 percent of all Americans support federal funding for public broadcasting -- and that included a majority of Democrats, a majority of Independents, and a majority of Republicans.

Now I want you to know that every congressman and congressional aide I met with was well aware of the threats to MPTV. And they said they had heard loud and clear from our viewers that public broadcasting was essential to you, their constituents. Loud and clear, you spoke up and Congress listened. And for that, all of us in public broadcasting and at MPTV say "thank you."

So now let's get back to enjoying all the great programming we have coming up for you on MPTV: UPSTAIRS, DOWNSTAIRS on MASTERPIECE CLASSIC; FREEDOM RIDERS on AMERICAN EXPERIENCE; our newest local documentary FREEDOM WALKERS FOR MILWAUKEE; the 43rd annual CHANNEL 10 GREAT TV AUCTION; and much, much more.

And I'll be back again next month with more "Thinking Inside the Box."