Statement by CEO Pat Harrison Before the Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies, U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations

Mar 20, 2015

Washington, D.C. (March 20, 2015) – Chairman Blunt, Ranking Member Murray and distinguished members of the subcommittee, thank you for allowing me to submit this testimony on behalf of America’s public media service—public television and public radio—on-air, online and in the community. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) requests level funding of $445 million for Fiscal Year (FY) 2018, $40 million in FY 2016 for the first year of a $197 million multi-year request to replace the current public television interconnection system, and $25.74 million for the Department of Education’s Ready To Learn program.

Forty-seven years after passage of the Public Broadcasting Act, this uniquely American public-private partnership is keeping its promise to the American people—that we would provide high quality trusted content that educates, inspires, informs and entertains. We ensure a safe place where children can learn; high-quality educational content for teachers in the classroom and children schooled at home; reliable and trusted news and information; and emergency alert services. Through our commitment to lifelong learning public media is providing an education continuum from the youngest to oldest Americans.

Through the 1,400 locally owned and operated public radio and television stations throughout the country, we support more than 20,000 local jobs in rural and urban communities. Over 70 percent of CPB’s appropriation goes directly to local stations who work in partnership with their communities to best serve local interests and concerns. Public media reaches nearly 99 percent of the American population—with an overwhelming majority of them consuming public media throughout the year.

The federal appropriation is the essential investment that ensures your constituents will have access to public media for free and commercial free. President Ronald Reagan said, “government should provide the spark and the private sector should do the rest.” America’s local public media stations utilize the “spark” of the federal investment—approximately 10 to 15 percent of a stations’ budget—and raise the rest from their viewers, listeners, donors and contributors. The result is a uniquely entrepreneurial system with a track record of value delivered to all citizens.

Congressionally mandated studies have affirmed that although private donations and existing funding sources account for the majority of public media’s funding, there is no alternative to federal funding when it comes to ensuring a strong, commercial free service comprising high quality and trusted content for free to the American public.

Our trusted, noncommercial services available for free to all Americans is especially important to those living in rural communities where the local public media station is sometimes the only source of broadcast news, information and educational programming. For these smaller stations serving rural, minority and other underserved communities, the federal dollars provide much more than just a spark, in some cases CPB’s investment can represent as much as 40 percent of their budget.

Public media’s contribution to education—from early childhood through adult learning—is well documented. We are America’s largest classroom, with proven educational content available to all children, including those who cannot afford preschool. Further, our content is repeatedly regarded as “most trusted” by parents, caregivers and teachers.

CPB’s work with the Department of Education’s Ready To Learn program is an excellent example of how public media brings together high-quality educational content with on-the-ground work in local communities. Twenty years ago, Congress recognized the reach and potential of public media to help disadvantaged children become better prepared to enter school. Over time, as technology has evolved, so have we. For the past five years, public media has provided coordinated and connected learning experiences for children across multiple platforms, including TV, Internet, mobile, and in multiple settings, such as classrooms, summer and after-school programs, and at home.

While innovation on multiple platforms is important, television is still the primary tool to reach low-income and rural families. More than 80 studies during the last several Ready To Learn competitive grant rounds have proven that this program’s content builds and improves early literacy skills for high-need children, ages two to eight. Continued funding will allow public media to carry-on this critical work.

Public media is also differentiated from commercial media through content that matters and engagement that counts. An example of this is CPB’s “American Graduate” initiative, which tells the story behind the statistic of one million young people failing to graduate from high school every year. Our stations told the stories and communities throughout the country responded. Over the past four years more than 80 public media stations located in at-risk communities in 33 states have worked with more than 1,400 national and community-based partners to bring together diverse stakeholders and community organizations all working toward a national graduation rate of 90 percent by 2020. We are pleased to report that as a result of our and others combined efforts, in 2014, the high school graduation rate rose to 85 percent for the first time in our nation’s history.

Public media is utilizing today’s technology to provide content of value to millions of citizens. CPB strategically focuses investments through the lens of what we refer to as the “Three D’s” —Digital, Diversity and Dialogue. This refers to support for innovation over multiple platforms, including digital; content that is for, by and about Americans of all backgrounds; and services that foster dialogue between the American people and the public service media organizations that serve them.

The Public Broadcasting Act ensures diversity in programming by requiring CPB to fund independent and minority producers. CPB fulfills this obligation, in part, by funding the Independent Television Service, the five Minority Consortia entities in television (African American, Latino, Asian American, Native American and Pacific Islander), several public radio consortia (Latino Public Radio Consortia, African American Public Radio Stations, and Native Public Media) and numerous minority public radio stations. In addition, CPB, through its Diversity and Innovation fund, makes direct investments in the development of diverse primetime and children’s broadcast programs as well as innovative digital content.

Thomas Jefferson said, “An informed citizenry is at the heart of a dynamic democracy,” and our commitment to early and lifelong learning, available to all citizens, helps strengthen that ideal. As newspapers across the country have scaled back their operations, public media has stepped into the void. Local stations have been working to fill the gap by building creative ventures and partnerships. CPB has helped these endeavors by funding 11 journalism collaborations comprised of 57 stations. These regional reporting hubs are providing their communities with much-needed local, regional and statewide coverage.

Today’s journalists work in a much different media and political environment than in years past. The January attacks by radical Islamists on the staff of Charlie Hebdo and others in Paris have shown us that our freedom of expression cannot be taken for granted. In an effort to underscore our support of freedom of the press and freedom of expression, CPB announced an investment of several million dollars to support four of public media’s flagship journalism enterprises—FRONTLINE, NPR’s International Coverage, PBS NewsHour, and PRI’s The World.

The work of public media goes beyond broadcast. Public television and radio stations are increasingly effective partners with state and local public safety, law enforcement and first responder organizations—connecting these agencies with one another, with the public, and with vital data-casting capabilities in times of crisis. CPB is supporting stations, both financially and by defining best practices, so that they may create more public-private partnerships locally and regionally, bringing more services and benefits to their communities. For example, CPB’s Veterans Coming Home project builds on public media’s strengths to address the needs of veterans in local communities. Stations and their partners are communicating veterans’ stories through award winning reporting, documentaries and online content; convening local events such as job fairs and town hall meetings that connect veterans with resources; and collaborating with local organizations to identify local services available to veterans.

Ever since the FCC set aside a block of spectrum exclusively for non-commercial educational use in 1953, public media has been efficiently utilizing this spectrum as a vehicle to serve families all across America. The FCC’s upcoming spectrum incentive auction and subsequent repacking process present a unique set of challenges for public media. The federal appropriation will allow CPB to adequately advise and support stations as they prepare for this unprecedented spectrum incentive auction and the repacking process that will follow.

Interconnection

As we near the expiration of our current Interconnection System satellite leases in September 2016, we must look ahead to the system that will serve public television stations for the next decade. Congress recognized the need for an interconnection system in 1967 when it passed the Public Broadcasting Act; it has maintained that commitment ever since with the funding of five generations of interconnection systems. Since 1988, Congress has supported a separate appropriation for public media’s interconnection needs.

Interconnection is the backbone of public broadcasting. It is used by PBS and many other public television entities to distribute television content and related materials to non-commercial, educational television licensees across the entire country. Without it, there is no nationwide public media service.

Additionally, interconnection also serves as the failsafe mechanism for Presidential emergency alerts. Transmitting across 367 stations in all states and territories, PBS’ Warning Alert and Response Network provides redundancy which enables wireless carriers to bypass network congestion caused by emergencies. The next interconnection system will employ two-way capability, paving the way for enhanced collaboration during times of emergency.

Conclusion

Public media’s treasure trove of content and services is available to all Americans for about $1.35 per American per year. As a result of the federal investment, public media stations are training teachers and helping to educate America’s children. We are providing journalism beyond just a sound-bite that truly provides citizens with the information they need to make informed decisions about local issues; to have in-depth knowledge through fact based reporting about national and global news. We make the arts accessible to all Americans; and provide emergency alert services for communities. CPB ensures that 95 cents of every dollar received goes to support local stations and the programs and services they offer to their communities; no more than five cents of every dollar goes to the administration of funding programs and overhead.

CPB’s FY 2018 request of $445 million and FY 2016 requests of $40 and $25.74 million for interconnection and Ready To Learn, respectively, balance the fiscal reality facing our nation with our statutory mandate to provide a valuable and trusted service to all Americans. Today, the challenges we face are more complex than ever and require attention to education, innovation, and collaboration. Public media has been inspiring and entertaining our hearts and minds for almost half a decade, and Congress’ support of our request will allow stations to continue providing high quality trusted content and materials that educate and strengthen our civil-society.

Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee, this is only part of the story of America’s public media system. Public media is truly a national treasure. I thank you for allowing me to submit this testimony and appreciate your consideration of our request for funding.