PBS and NPR execs fear steep funding cuts

WASHINGTON — Public broadcasting executives already knew they faced a stiff fight this year to protect their federal appropriation in Congress amid stern calls for deficit reduction.

But after a conservative activist released a video last week of a top National Public Radio fundraiser maligning "tea party" activists and the Republican party, station managers are bracing for the worst.

The controversy, which led to the rapid resignation of NPR Chief Executive Vivian Schiller, hit as Congress is wrangling over this year's budget. In its version, the House stripped all federal funding for public broadcasting, which would amount to a cut of $445 million in 2013, a drop of 15 percent on average for nearly 1,300 local public radio and television stations around the country.

The cuts would be significantly deeper for small and rural stations, including nearly two-dozen that get at least half of their revenue from federal money distributed by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, or CPB.

"The loss of federal funding would be devastating," said Eric Smith, general manager of WNMU, which operates public television and radio stations in Marquette, Mich., that broadcast across remote areas of the Upper Peninsula and northeast Wisconsin.

Conservatives have long targeted federal support for public media, accusing NPR and PBS of having a liberal bent. This past week, congressional leaders pounced on the incident involving now-departed NPR fundraiser Ron Schiller (no relation to Vivian Schiller), who was captured on a hidden video suggesting that NPR would be better off in the long run without taxpayer support. "Perhaps the truth finally came out," said House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va.

Steve Bass, president of Oregon Public Broadcasting and a member of the NPR board of directors, said he's worried that the bipartisan support the system historically enjoyed, particularly in the Senate, has been eroded by Schiller's comments. Activists posing as members of a fictitious Muslim organization recorded the then-NPR executive calling tea party activists "seriously racist, racist people," among other inflammatory remarks.

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