WASHINGTON, D.C. — The debate over whether or not to cut funding for public broadcasting came before a Congressional subcommittee in mid-January when top officials from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting were asked to defend their need for government funds.
The controversy is being led by House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who has said repeatedly that he wants to “zero fund” CPB. Republicans and some Democrats on the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services challenged the necessity of CPB’s $285 million annual federal subsidy during the hearing.
“The American people do not have to come to the forefront necessarily and underwrite Big Bird and Barney,” said Rep. Bob Livingston, (R-La.), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, during his opening remarks. He said it may be time to question whether or not the taxpayers should be supporting public broadcasting.
CPB President Richard Carlson and board Chairman Henry Cauthen spent most of the morning session defending public broadcasting’s place on the federal budget. Committee members suggested that CPB already functions in many ways as a successful private company and that the need for “seed money” which was originally granted to the stations is gone.
The CPB officials were asked several times to describe the profits public stations reaped from the product sales of popular shows like “Barney and Friends” and “Sesame Street.” Carlson said that since “Barney” was not created by CPB, the corporation has had little claim to licensing profits until recent contract changes. “Sesame Street” profits are funnelled back into the non- profit Children’s Television Network, he said.
Other committee members charged the stations with having a liberal bias and pandering to an elite audience. Rep. Livingston also pointed out that the CPB is exempt from all Freedom of Information Act laws and suggested some stations might have engaged in illegal lobbying since the funding issue came to the forefront.
“Please keep in mind that the vast majority of public television has nothing whatsoever to do with any controversy over bias and ideology,” Carlson said in defense of the bias charge. “Instead, it is devoted to education and community service in both the very strict and conventional sense.”
The hearing was to consider cuts in CPB’s funding for the current fiscal year, which ends September 30. Any recommendations on that could come within the next month. Any larger cuts would happen in the fiscal 1996 budget, a Livingston spokesman told The Washington Post.
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