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All Things Considered: No Love for "Car Talk," Educational Programs?

February 14, 2011

WASHINGTON - Some members of the new Congress have no love for public media. If they have their way, the "on-air" lights could dim at thousands of public television and radio stations around the country.

Six new bills on Capitol Hill propose cutting all federal funding for National Public Radio (NPR), the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) and other public media, and Congress could vote on some of them as early as this week. Similar cuts have been threatened before, but media watchers say the news industry is especially vulnerable today.

Josh Stearns advocates for media freedom and reform with Free Press Action Fund.

"We need journalists who are going to be dedicated to that public service mission of journalism. Our public media is our media. It's a national resource, just like our national parks."

Stearns sees the cuts as a threat to First Amendment free-speech rights. According to his organization's research, 30,000 journalists have lost their jobs in the last three years.

Critics of public media say the system is no longer needed, because technology has made more programs available to more people. But Stearns stresses that public media are critical when newsroom consolidation is reducing the depth and variety of coverage.

"This attack on public media right now is really an attack on our First Amendment rights, and it will hurt those communities for whom public broadcasting is the main source of local and national news."

Public broadcasting funding amounts to a yearly cost of about $1.30 per person in the United States. By comparison, the U.S. spends almost $20 a year per person to subsidize ethanol production.

More than 70 percent of public media funding goes to local stations. As a result, Stearns warns, budget cuts could have the greatest impact on stations in rural areas, and he urges communities to take action.

"Stand up for public media, to ensure that these cuts don't eliminate public media just for the sake of playing political games."

The Free Press Action Fund has launched an online letter-writing campaign to members of Congress and is also beginning a call-in campaign to support public media.

Stephanie Carroll Carson, Public News Service - NC