Thinking Inside the Box


by Ellis Bromberg, General Manager of MPTV

Ignoring an overwhelmingly negative response from the American people to proposed federal funding cuts last June, the Bush Administration has once again targeted public broadcasting.

The renewed attack includes $157 million in funding cuts next fiscal year. In fact, the Administration's budget, released in January, proposes to reduce federal financial support of public broadcasting by almost 30 percent from the amount appropriated this year.

There's more troubling news. For the past thirty years, Congress has always authorized federal funding levels for public broadcasting two years in advance. But this new budget proposes to "zero out" advance funding for public broadcasting in fiscal year 2009. John Lawson, the president of the Association for Public Television Stations, warns, "With this tactic, the Administration may be laying the foundation for the elimination of all federal funding for public broadcasting."

Major national productions, educational services, local equipment purchases, and the necessary digitization of public television's interconnection system (the way programs are delivered from PBS and stored at MPTV) depend on adequate federal funding. If it is not restored to appropriate levels, the result will be significant cuts in educational and informational programming that will affect every public television station in the nation, and a tangible weakening of the national public television system.

The local impact: about a half million dollars would be cut from the MPTV budget. A lot of great programs and valuable services would be placed in jeopardy.

Last June, in an overwhelming up/down vote, 196 Democrats, 87 Republicans, and the one Independent in the House of Representatives joined together to reject a $100 million cut to federal funding for public broadcasting in fiscal year 2006. Four of the six House members that serve our area - Representatives Gwen Moore, Thomas Petri, Melissa Bean, and Mark Kirk, Republicans and Democrats alike - responded to constituent concerns and showed their support for public broadcasting in that vote.

Congress heard from many citizens last year who urged their representatives to ensure that such funding would be approved. Why? Americans trust public television. In a recent Roper poll, PBS received the highest trust rating among public institutions asked about in the survey - more than courts of law, commercial television networks, newspapers, and cable television. More than Congress itself.

Opponents on Capitol Hill talk about setting priorities in funding, and we're all for that. But public broadcasting deserves to be a high priority. It is a good investment of public funds that delivers important local services to communities. Consider these that MPTV, alone, provides to citizens in southeastern Wisconsin and northern Illinois:

- A schedule of exceptional educational, cultural, and informational television programs, uninterrupted by commercials, on two great stations, MPTV-10 and MPTV-36.
- A 24-hour noncommercial digital channel of educational children's programs, MPTV KIDS.
- A 24-hour noncommercial digital channel celebrating the creative spirit in all of us, MPTV CREATE.
- The area's only 24-hour noncommercial high definition and widescreen digital broadcast station, MPTV-HD.
- K-12 programming selected by teachers for use in their classrooms.
- College credit television series used by institutions of higher learning.
- Community workshops for teachers and librarians that demonstrate the use of television as an effective tool for teaching and learning.
- The only television service regularly producing award-winning full-length documentaries about important issues affecting our region.
- The only television service regularly producing full-length, great performances taped at local venues.
- With new digital television technology, the ability to play a key and unique role in the nation's homeland security efforts (a project, now being piloted on public television in Washington, D.C., will be rolled out nationally within the next few years).

So it's more than just great television (it's that too!) that's placed in jeopardy by a short-sighted federal budget! It's also a host of services that no commercial station, cable network, or other media provide in our area.

All is not lost. House and Senate committees will be reviewing and modifying the White House budget, and they may make significant and positive changes in it before it comes to full floor votes.

Over the coming months, we hope we can count on citizens who value the unique services MPTV provides to join us in asking that Congress ensure the continuance of a strong, adequately funded, noncommercial public television service in this country.

Ellis Bromberg
MPTV General Manager