GOP May Trim, Not Eliminate, Funds for Public Broadcasting

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

ALL things considered, the budget news for public broadcasting may not be as bad as Center for Public Broadcasting (CPB) officials had feared.

House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R) of Georgia and other GOP revolutionaries have softened their vow to end all federal spending on public broadcasting. They may settle for slashing CPB's $285-million federal payment instead.

For instance, they are considering moving public stations that are financially stable off government funding while putting money toward stations that need it most: small rural ones and those just starting out.

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''I am not fixed in concrete,'' Gingrich said at a press conference late last week. ''If the real problem is small, rural stations, maybe part of the answer is to give the money directly to small, rural stations.''

CPB's $285 million in federal funds represents 14 percent of the public-broadcasting industry's total income. CPB distributes the money to more than 1,000 stations and groups, including the Public Broadcasting Service and National Public Radio.

The CPB is facing budget cuts as part of the Republicans' vow, under its ''Contract With America,'' to achieve a balanced budget. But some witnesses at a House subcommittee hearing last week voiced objections to funding based on CPB programming policies and what they perceive to be ''poor-mouthing'' tactics in CPB's efforts to continue to receive government funding.

Robert Knight, of the Family Research Council, a Washington-based conservative group, said that his research on CPB's programming revealed anti-family and anti-religious messages.

''There is some good programming on PBS and NPR,'' he said. ''However, there is so much anti-family propaganda on public broadcasting that one might conclude that the folks at PBS and NPR are obsessed with validating nontraditional lifestyles -- at taxpayer expense.''

He cited one program, ''What If I'm Gay,'' a show that he said was aired during prime viewing hours -- 10 a.m. and 11 a.m. -- for young children. ''Is this what you want your little children to watch?'' he asked. ''I have four children and I can tell you I don't.''

Laurence Jarvik, Washington editor of the Journal About Public Media, said that federally funded childrens' programs are exploited by corporations and individuals for private profits.

He noted that Forbes Magazine recently listed Barney (a CPB-created character show) as the third richest entertainer in America after Stephen Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey.

''Sales of toys and merchandise based on PBS shows such as 'Barney,' 'Sesame Street,' and 'Shining Time Stations,''' Jarvik said, ''gross literally billions of dollars -- but not for the federal treasury and the taxpayer who makes it all possible.''

CPB has been using the past several weeks to stir up support for continued government funding, offering their audiences the prospect of the demise of such popular national programs as ''Masterpiece Theater'' and ''Mister Rogers' Neighborhood.'' Some public radio and TV stations are running messages asking people to call their Washington lawmakers.

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