By: Todd Etshman//March 22, 2011
By: Todd Etshman//March 22, 2011//
Earlier this month, the House of Representatives voted to stop National Public Radio (NPR) from receiving federal funds and to keep stations from using federal funds to purchase NPR programming or to use federal funds to develop new programs. Such programming is heard on several stations in the greater Rochester area, including WXXI (AM 1370) and includes such widely heard programs as “Morning Edition,” “All Things Considered,” “Marketplace,” “Car Talk” and “The Dianne Rehm Show.”
The emergency vote on House Bill 1076 was largely cast along party lines with all Democrats voting against it and all but seven Republicans including area Representatives Thomas Reed and Ann Marie Buerkle voting for it.
The White House opposes the measure and it appears unlikely it could pass the Democratic Senate.
“It’s more of an insidious threat down the road,” said WXXI President Norm Silverstein.
He believes more bills like H.R. 1076 are coming and the House vote is just the beginning of a prolonged attack on public radio and television funding.
“If one passes, it could be very serious,” Silverstein said on Monday. “I’ve been in public broadcasting for 20 years and this is the most serious threat that I’ve ever seen. It’s like pulling threads on a sweater. If you pull enough of them, you’ll ruin it.”
Silverstein said he received calls from Reed and Buerkle before the vote and they discussed the impact it could have on WXXI.
“I think they’re under the impression that it will save money and it’s not,” he said. “People vote against us because of the federal deficit and it’s not going to make an impact on the deficit. NPR actually receives very little federal funding.”
According to Silverstein and a statement released by the White House opposing the measure, the proposed funding cut may have the biggest impact on small and rural communities across the country, who could lose their stations entirely with little prospect of replacing the news and educational programs NPR provide.
Silverstein said that as a relatively strong station, WXXI could survive the loss of federal funding for NPR programming but said “[w]e’re all in some ways related. If small and rural stations go dark, it could affect us all.”
If and when federal funding for NPR is eliminated, WXXI could still use member donated funds and corporate support to acquire programming and public radio stations could still receive federal funding for administrative costs.
The vote was supported by non-profit journalism advocate Jason Stverak, who heads up the Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity. Stverak issued a statement saying government has no place in the journalism industry or in funding news organizations and many non-profit news organizations survive without taxpayer funding.
Silverstein disagreed with that assessment.
“There really are very few independent community stations that could survive the loss of NPR programs and be able to duplicate NPR programs,” he said. “It’s not fair to say they’ll survive.”
Commercial stations accept and rely on political advertising, something public radio stations like WXXI cannot do.
Silverstein, the White House and NPR advocates question whether the reduction of in depth news reporting is what the country needs at a time when the journalism industry, in general, is already facing challenges.
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