PBS president focuses on future despite fears of draconian cuts

Mar 23, 2017

President Trump's proposed 2018 budget would eliminate all funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.  CPB helps financially sustain public radio and television stations across the U.S., including WKAR.  PBS president and CEO Paula Kerger is trying to prevent that loss of funding. She speaks to the Detroit Economic Club on Friday.

Paula Kerger:

Funding that comes into the corporation supports stations across the country.  Speaking on behalf of the TV stations, the funding that comes into our stations represents in aggregate about 15 percent of the budget of our stations.  So, in some of our larger, urban stations the percentage is federal funding is significantly smaller; in some cases it’s six to nine percent.  For rural stations and those in small communities, the federal appropriation represents 30 to 50 percent – and in the case of Alaska – 60 percent of their budget.  The reason that we fight so hard for this appropriation is that loss of it would indeed be an existential problem for our stations.

Kevin Lavery:

So, the larger market stations are much more dependent on donor contributions than the smaller ones?


Correct.  If you lost six, seven or even nine percent of your funding, it would be painful, for sure.  So, I don’t mean to imply that in some of our larger markets that there wouldn’t be a significant challenge; of course, there would be.  But I think the real issue is that for the smaller stations, it would mean their very existence.  


Earlier this week (Tuesday, March 21), five different activist organizations on their own presented some petitions to Congress, to the tune of about 660,000 (signatures), with the message “Save PBS and public broadcasting funding.”  What do you think of other associations coming to your defense?


For me, it’s a reminder of the fact that people believe that the Public Broadcasting Service belongs to the public.  And I think that’s extraordinarily powerful.  I know that our stations around the country have been talking to their volunteer groups, and I know volunteers have reached out...but I think the fact that this was so very organic, I think it speaks volumes about the stake people hold in public broadcasting.  People absolutely believe that this belongs to them, as does the public library, public parks and the public square.


I’d like to ask you about PBS Kids.  In January, WKAR and Detroit Public Television officially launched a partnership to create a 24-hour, live stream, interactive product.  You’re coming to Detroit on Friday.  What’s your message in Detroit?


We’re intently focused on making sure that we reach all kids, but particularly kids who may live in homes without access to wider educational opportunities, most specifically, formal pre-K(indergarten), with content that will make a difference in their lives.  So in addition to the live stream, what our partners at WKAR and Detroit Public Television have done is to help us launch an over-the-air broadcast channel, which is also available on cable.  It’s available 24 hours. 

Now, some people have said to me, “24 hours?  Are you encouraging children to stay up all night?”  The answer is no.  But, there are a lot of children who are up all night; children in hospitals, children that are in circumstances where we wanted to make sure that there was some opportunity for them.  So, I’ll be in Detroit talking about the importance of the work we do collectively to impact the lives of our youngest members of our community.  Because at the end of the day, our future is in their hands.