National Public Radio could lose federal funding under proposed Trump budget © AFP Share on Twitter (opens new window) Share on Facebook (opens new window) Share on LinkedIn (opens new window) 20 Save MARCH 16, 2017 by: Shannon Bond in New York President Donald Trump’s proposal to eliminate federal funding for public media and the arts has public broadcasters, local radio and television stations, and arts groups bracing to fight for their lives.
Salman Rushdie, Jasper Johns and Rosanne Cash added their names to a PEN America petition to protect funding for the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, which support artists, writers, musicians, academics, museums, libraries and non-profit organisations. “Eliminating these vital agencies would lessen America’s stature as a haven for free thinkers and a global leader in humanity’s shared quest for knowledge,” the petition states. Federal support for media and culture has long been a target of conservatives, and these organizations have faced defunding threats before.
Ronald Reagan intended to eliminate the NEA in 1981 but ultimately scrapped his plan. Newt Gingrich, then Speaker of the House, tried to abolish both the NEA and NEH in the mid-1990s but settled for a compromise with Bill Clinton for steep cuts to their budgets. Related article Trump’s budget slashes EPA and state department spending The scale of what Mr Trump aims to do, as part of a sweeping re-evaluation of spending across the federal government, is different, said Suzanne Nossel, executive director of PEN America, the writers association. “In the past it’s been caught up in the culture wars. It was a debate about what was art and what art deserved taxpayer dollars,” she said.
“This is much more of a scorched earth strategy . . . So many functions of the state are in jeopardy now and arts and humanities are one of them,” she added. PEN and other advocates argue that the US already spends very little on arts and culture compared to other countries. In 2016, the NEA and the NEH each received $148m and the CPB received $445m from the government — adding up to less than one-tenth of one per cent of the annual federal budget. In the UK, the BBC is funded by £3.7bn in annual television licensing fees. Countries such as China, Russia and Qatar have recently expanded state-backed media outlets China Central Television, RT and Al Jazeera in a bid to extend their influence through soft power.
As Mr Trump’s budget plans were unveiled on Thursday, US public media and arts organisations were ready with data and lobbying plans to push back. “The cost of public broadcasting is small, only $1.35 per citizen per year, and the benefits are tangible: increasing school readiness for kids ages 2-8, support for teachers and homeschoolers, life-long learning, public safety communications and civil discourse,” chided Paula Kerger, president of PBS, the public TV broadcaster.
PEN America is opening its first office in Washington to support its lobbying efforts, which will focus on working with local organisations around the country to urge their representatives to protect their federal funding. Advocates argue that public support is most critical for the community theatres, local library programmes and rural broadcasters that the NEA, NEH and CPB support. “The idea in the past that these were elite institutions in service of other elite institutions is not the case this time around,” Ms Nossel said. Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017
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