PBS is home to some of the most iconic children’s television programs of all time, from Sesame Street to Mr. Rogers. But should taxpayers continue to help fund public broadcasting? It’s a debate expected to take center stage soon in Congress.
“What’s at stake is the foundation of funding for all of the public broadcasting system,” said Mary Pruess, president and general Manager of PBS member station WNIT in South Bend.
This fiscal year, Congress appropriated $430 million for public broadcasting. Pruess said that means it costs each person about $1.35 per year. She said the majority of those funds go to the country’s local public radio and television stations. WNIT’s portion represents about 25 percent of the television station’s yearly budget. The rest comes from state funds and private donations.
“The cuts would be devastating,” said Pruess.
On Wednesday, a video message appeared on the station’s website urging viewers to contact their members of Congress.
“Please act now,” the speaker said, “Protect the future of WNIT.”
Pruess said to make up for the loss, WNIT and other PBS member stations would have to look at everything, including the station’s five locally-produced weekly programs.
“In addition to that, all of our children's programs and programs we get from PBS, we would have reduced ability to buy those programs,” said Pruess, who added that in the last two years the station’s workforce has already been reduced from 39 employees to 24.
Critics argue cuts have to be made somewhere to reign in federal spending.
On the WSBT Facebook page, people weighed in on the debate whether taxpayer funds should continue to support public broadcasting.
“No!” said one person. “It should stand or fall on its own. With the advent of cable channels, there is no need for public funding anymore.”
Another commenter disagreed.
“Yes. We need a network that is not funded by commercials or by big business.”