Congressional hit list includes PBS

By Charles Ratliff

Arizona Daily Wildcat

An estimated $300 million in federal funding could soon find itself removed from the budgets of approximately 400 PBS stations across America.

KUAT-TV, Tucson's Channel 6, Tucson, is one of those stations whose federal revenue is on the Congressional hit list.

"All we know is that we have a commitment to reducing spending and making sufficient cuts in the budget wherever possible," said U.S. Representative Jim Kolbe, R-Arizona.

"It could be that public broadcasting could find themselves without funding next year," he said. "It's hard to say."

Don Burgess, general manager for KUAT-TV and radio stations KUAT and KUAZ, based at the University of Arizona, said they receive $861,000 in funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. The breakdown of federal monies represents 15 percent of the budget for channel 6 and 18 percent of both radio stations' budgets.

"That's a significant amount of money considering we've taken hits from the university in four out of the last five years," Burgess said.

Kolbe said that Congress' commitment to balancing the budget by the year 2002 includes taking a look at every aspect of the federal budget.

He said that requires a very close scrutiny to the federal government's spending.

Burgess said that if KUAT were to lose all of its federal funding it would mean significant cuts in staff at all three broadcasting stations in Tucson. Student employees, on the other hand, might not be affected, he said.

"We employ students as camera people," he said. "They're getting some good hands-on experience. There is no doubt that they leave here ready to work elsewhere in their field."

"We might have to hire more students on an hourly basis to make up the staff deficiencies," Burgess said.

Charles Allen, general manager of KAET-TV, Channel 8, broadcast from Arizona State University for the greater Phoenix area, said 12 percent of their budget is comprised of federal subsidies, which equates to $950,000 in round numbers.

"Because of the size of Phoenix, and a lot of booming growth in Prescott and Sedona, I think we could continue with the meat axe cutbacks," Allen said.

"It would be missed, but we could cope with it," he said.

KUAT, however, would not be so lucky.

"If we have to go out and raise money to replace lost funding, that's difficult to do," Burgess said. "It would mean recruiting more members from the community."

Senator Larry Pressler, R-South Dakota, incoming chairman of the commerce committee, wrote in his guest column published in the Arizona Republic (Jan. 4, 1995) that cutting off federal funding would reform public broadcasting television stations in the sense of making them more competitive with commercial television stations.

Allen retorted by comparing the competition between commercial and public broadcast stations as a race, of sorts.

"If you were in a foot race and your feet were cut off, how competitive would you be?" he said.

Pressler wrote that freeing public broadcasting from its dependence on government subsidies would allow the television and radio media to enter a "new era of information plenty" through the competition with various information cable channels and networks.

"Maybe in Pressler's hometown, 98 percent of people have cable," Allen said. "Only about 48 percent of the television population of Phoenix have cable. That is the smallest penetration in the top 20 cities."

Pressler was unable to be reached for comment.

The basic idea behind public broadcasting, Burgess said, is to provide quality local and educational programs without relying too heavily on the commercial aspect to support the stations.

"There's nothing wrong with commercial broadcasting," he said. He described the difference between what public broadcasting does and what commercial broadcasting does as the former completing the latter.

"The idea of privatization of PBS would make us look just like commercial broadcasting," Burgess said. "It would lead us to become more like them through the process of duplication."

Burgess said if public broadcasting appealed to as large an audience as commercial broadcasting, then PBS stations could rely on the same forms of revenue as the commercial television industry: commercials.

"It's entirely a different state of mind," he said.

Burgess said that should Congress decide to eliminate funding to PBS, staff cuts and quality of continuing service would have to be weighed against one another to determine which cuts would have a drastic effect on the quality of programming to KUAT's members. His only piece of advice offered to the public would be to inform their congressmen.

Although a decision has yet to be made by either the U.S. House of Representatives or the Senate, the indicators are there.

"In the Senate, the trend seems to be a phase-out over three to four years," Allen said. "In the House not a dime."

"Phase-out would be preferable to a shut-off," he said. "But, nothing is ever easy in public broadcasting. You're used to uphill battles."

"We'll remain on the air," Allen said, "if we can afford to keep our transmitters on."

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