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Federal funding critical to sustaining public media

Nov 1, 2012 - Roger L. Gose, M.D.

With a federal budget deficit of nearly $4 trillion, it's no wonder that many federally funded programs are being examined with intense scrutiny. In the first presidential debate, Gov. Mitt Romney promised to "stop the subsidy to PBS", which amounts to 1/100th of 1 percent of the federal budget.

Federal funding is critical to sustaining public broadcasting, to sustaining the public-private partnership. At Wyoming PBS, for example, for every federal dollar invested, our local station generates an additional three dollars. Many of these stations are the last locally owned, locally operated media outlets in their communities, including Wyoming PBS. The return on investment is something a good businessman should applaud.

Polls show that 69 percent of American voters across the political spectrum oppose eliminating funding for public broadcasting, including nearly 50 percent of self-identified Tea-Party supporters, and nearly 70 percent of independents.

Further polling shows that Americans consider PBS to be the second most appropriate expenditure of public funds, behind only national defense. Moreover, PBS has been identified as the most trusted institution for the ninth year in a row.

Millions of Americans responded to the proposed funding cut via social media ... saying, "don't kill Big Bird."

So, for $1.35 per citizen per year in federal funding.... 1/100th of 1 percent of the federal budget, what do we, the public, get?

"Sesame Street" and all the other early-childhood programs that get preschoolers (particularly those in low-income families) ready to learn, closing the literacy gap between low and middle income;

PBS Learning Media, K-12 standards-based, curriculum-aligned, interactive digital learning materials that are revolutionizing the learning experience in classrooms nationwide.

In depth cultural and historical programming, featuring the preserver of our national memory, Ken Burns, and his documentaries "The Civil War," "The National Parks: America's Best Idea," and "The Dust Bowl," premiering Nov. 18 to name just a few.

Recently the PBS "Newshour" debate 2012 provided coverage and balanced analysis of all three presidential debates, and the one vice presidential debate. Locally, Wyoming PBS produces the only Congressional debates for the entire state of Wyoming.

We are also especially proud of other locally produced programs from Wyoming PBS: the weekly public affairs series "Wyoming Chronicle;" the signature series "Main Street, Wyoming;" as well as award-winning documentaries such as "Wyoming Voices," "Migrations," and the recent documentary on Sen. Alan Simpson "Nothing Else Matters," which aired nationally on all PBS stations.

The American people clearly place enormous value in these services, and they appreciate the very successful public-private partnership that supports this great American success story. It's heartening that in a polarized political environment the great majority of the public see federal funding of public television as a good thing.

Public broadcasting services are not luxuries; they are essential services that 170 million Americans rely on every month, and it resonates with the American people, because they understand, in the words of Ken Burns, "that we have a debt not because of public television; we have a debt to public television."

Gose is a member of the Leadership Council with the Association of Public Television Stations

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