Strengthening Public Television ... The Tide Has Turned: More About Nova and Downton Abbey
State legislators' support for public television is strengthening after nearly a decade of deep spending cuts and sharp ideological opposition from some lawmakers to the very idea of taxpayer-supported TV.
Masterpiece's Churchill's Secret; Credit: Matthew Macfadyen as Randolph Churchill and Tara Fitzgerald as Diana Churchill. Courtesy of Robert Viglasky/Daybreak Pictures and Masterpiece
In winning the additional money, boosters have successfully argued that public television is about more than NOVA and Downton Abbey. Public television stations produce programs and school materials that delve into state history and culture. They shed light on state and local political issues, sponsor debates between candidates, and are the backbone of the Emergency Alert System.
"In most of the states that we do business with … local networks and stations have convinced the legislatures that they provide essential services," said Patrick Butler, the president of America’s Public Television Stations (APTS), which represents stations around the country. "The tide has turned considerably."
Public television is a tiny share of state budgets, usually no more than 1 percent.
In the current budget year, according to APTS, 13 states increased spending on their public TV networks and radio stations, 10 kept spending level and seven cut spending. (The budget numbers for the remaining states were not available.)
Of the seven states that reduced spending, only three enacted cuts greater than 3 percent. Public television wasn't specifically targeted in any of the seven states, but took its share of cuts as lawmakers struggled with budget shortfalls, APTS said.
There also are signs at the federal level that public TV is no longer a top target of budgeters and small-government advocates: The Senate Appropriations Committee in June voted 29-1 to approve the Obama administration's $445 million request for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), which distributes money to state TV and radio stations.
One stunning example of a legislative change of heart was in Alabama, where lawmakers approved a whopping 35 percent increase to the Alabama Public TV (APTV) network — the largest boost in the country for fiscal 2017.
That increase was in sharp contrast to the beating APTV took during the recession and as the network dealt with a management scandal caused by what critics regarded as lavish and careless spending.
When Executive Director Roy Clem took over in late 2012, APTV's budget had decreased 61 percent since fiscal 2008 and 54 percent of the staff had been laid off.
MASTERPIECE: The Durrells in Corfu; Sundays, October 16-November 19, 2016, 8:00 -9:00 p.m. ET. Credit: Courtesy of John Rogers/Sid Gentle Films & Masterpiece. Pictured: Callum Woodhouse as Leslie, Keeley Hawes as Louisa, Milo Parker as Gerry, Daisy Waterstone as Margo and Josh O'Connor as Larry
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