Business Ethos Blog

Will NPR Become National PRIVATE Radio? – Dr. David Mielke, Dean of EMU’s College of Business

One of the budget cuts being proposed in Congress is to eliminate funding for National Public Radio (NPR) and the Public Broadcasting System (PBS).  Despite how the accessibility of media has become–and how the sources have expanded due to the Internet, the federal funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) has increased from $340 million in 2001 to $420 million last year.  The President has proposed increasing the funding for next year to $451 million.  The Republicans in the House are proposing $0.  The CPB distributes the money to to other stations.  PBS, NPR and the CPB are participating in massive lobbying efforts to prevent Congress from cutting the funding.  Hundreds of taxpayer-supported TV, radio and web outlets have partnered with advocacy campaigns to facilitate emails and phone calls to Capitol Hill to persuade members of Congress not to make the cuts.

There are two issues that should also be discussed in connection with this move to cut funding:

1. The salaries paid to public broadcasting executives.

2. Other sources to fund the public broadcasting outlets.

The top executives of the public media earn more than the President.  PBS president Paula Kerger is paid $632,233, CPB’s president and CEO Patricia de Stacy Harrison received $298,884 in direct compensation and another $70,630 in other compensation and the the president emeritus of NPR received more than $1.2 million in compensation in 2009.  The Sesame Street president and CEO earned $956,513 in 2008.

All of these public media outlets have public fund raising appeals on stations that are supposedly commercial free.  They also accept funding for “public service” announcements which sound very close to commercials.  The success of Sesame Street has generated more than $211 million from toy and consumer product sales from 2003-2006.  Last year George Soros contributed $1.8 million to NPR to help support the plan to hire 100 additional reporters.

Given the current state of the budget, is it the “Right thing to do to” eliminate funding for all public media?

1. It could be said that the current federal funding is being used to lobby Congress to continue and in fact increase their funding.  Should tax payer money be used to lobby for more tax payer money?  I don’t think this is the right thing to do.  If funding is in fact continued, there should be a provision that the organizations cannot lobby Congress.

2. The high executive salaries are out of line.  If the public media is providing a public service, then the salaries should reflect just that, public service.

3. Given the multitude of media now available—far more than what was available in 1967 when the CPB was formed, is there a continued need for subsidies?  Given the increased competition and the likelihood that the number of people viewing or listening to public TV and radio has deceased, I do not see the continued need for funding.

4. The public media has well established means to get taxpayer contributions and other sources of revenue.  At a time when we have pressures to cut the budget, hard choices have to be made—and one of those hard choices is to eliminate funding for public media.  It is the “Right thing to do”.