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"Free Press announces efforts to shield public broadcasting from partisan meddling"

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Corporation for Public Broadcasting and Congress should shield news, cultural and children's programming from partisan interference


WASHINGTON Following the recent vote by the House Appropriations Subcommittee to slash the budget for public television and radio, Free Press, the national, nonpartisan media reform group, announced a renewed effort to shield public broadcasting from partisan meddling.

"Congress must ensure that the funding mechanism for public broadcasting is protected from the political winds in Washington," said Free Press founder and media scholar Robert W. McChesney. "Instead of representing their constituents, politicians are acting as partisan operatives seeking to dismantle media even children's programming that doesn't follow the party line."

The subcommittee voted to sharply reduce support for popular children's educational programs such as "Sesame Street" and "Postcards from Buster" in addition to educational resources provided by hundreds of local stations as part of the "Ready to Learn" program. The legislators also moved to eliminate all federal money for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) within two years, starting with a $100 million reduction in the budget for 2006.
Research shows strong public support for public broadcasting's programs and for continued public financial support. A 2003 poll by the Tarrance Group, for example, found that more than 75 percent of those surveyed said "it is important for the federal government to support [PBS and NPR] financially."

"Despite overwhelming public support, the future of public broadcasting is in danger," said Josh Silver, executive director of Free Press. "This is a direct result of a concerted campaign, involving GOP House representatives and partisan board members at CPB, to both gag and starve public media in America."

More than 85,000 concerned citizens have signed a Free Press petition calling for CPB Chairman Kenneth Tomlinson to resign, following his much-publicized efforts to meddle with PBS and NPR programming that doesn't adhere to his personal notion of "objectivity and balance." Free Press will deliver the petitions to Tomlinson when he convenes the CPB's board of directors meeting in Washington on June 20.

Despite the widespread public opposition, Tomlinson continues to stack the CPB board and executive offices with political cronies. Recent news reports suggest the leading candidate to fill the vacant post of CPB president is Patricia Harrison, former co-chairwoman of the Republican National Committee.

"The perpetual search for money and the perceived need to appease powerful government interests have already prompted public broadcasters to turn their backs on programming that serves all Americans," Silver said. "CPB's crucial role as a buffer between programming and political influence must be restored."

In April, Free Press joined with Common Cause, Consumers Union, Consumers Federation of America and Media Access Project to announce plans for a series of local town meetings across the country, where the public will talk directly to broadcasters and policymakers about the future of public broadcasting. Next week, Free Press will unveil a new Web site at www.freepress.net dedicated to "putting the public back in public broadcasting."

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