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Will Big Bird Take A Big Fall? Not Entirely, Says Maryland Public Television

As Congress debates the future of federal funding for public broadcasting, Maryland Public Television braces itself for the challenges ahead.

I recently sat down with Joseph Krushinsky, vice president for institutional advancement at in Owings Mills, to ask him how he felt about the possibility of federal funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting being eliminated.

Recently Congress has debated the need to reign in spending and eliminate the federal government’s annual budget deficit; one of the items on the chopping block is federal funding for public broadcasting. The resignation of Chief Executive Vivian Schiller of National Public Radio has only added fuel to this fire.

However, federal funding actually accounts for only a portion of MPT’s revenue.

Krushinsky shared a current breakdown of MPT’s revenue, showing that only a little more than nine percent of their revenue comes from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB). Government money for public broadcasting is distributed to CPB, which then distributes the funds to various public radio and television broadcast organizations.

Here are some other facts and figures regarding Maryland Public Television (MPT) funding from its annual fiscal budget ending June 30, 2010:

  • The state of Maryland is the largest provider of funding for Maryland Public Television, providing for $9,420,209, or 32.7% of MPT's budget.
  • Corporate Support accounts for more than $6 million, or. 21.7% of the budget.
  • Members of MPT contributed $5,725,934, representing 19.9% of the budget.
  • Production also generates revenue for MPT, providing a little under $3 million, or 10.1%. Motor Week generates a large portion of this revenue.
  • CPB accounts for more than $2.6 million, or 9.4% of its federal funding.
  • Grants provide the remaining 6.2% of funding, at $1,784,000.

So, while the end of federal funding for CPB does not necessarily mean the end of MPT, the loss of funding would still have a negative impact on local public television. 

“(Federal funding elimination) may negatively impact national series," Krushinsky said. "The national programs are so well done, and serve as a jumping-off point for further discussion. National programs often help to frame local issues.”

Krushinsky also warned that the elimination of federal funding to CPB “could mean the end of public TV in some areas where it is the majority of their funding … and that is unacceptable.”

States like Montana, for instance, are dependent upon CPB funding to operate. According to a recent article in the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, a loss of federal funding could mean the end of public television in Montana. Montana’s public television receives roughly 18 percent of its funding from the federal government, according to the report.

MPT is fortunate that it receives a great deal of private and local support and is therefore more financially resilient than some other public broadcasting organizations. Low-income areas and more rural states are more vulnerable to cuts in revenue. Many of these PBS stations could not exist without federal funding. 

The elimination of federal support for public broadcasting would impact low-income populations first and hardest.

Meanwhile, public television is known for its excellent news coverage, which offers an alternative to cable news punditry. MPT has been and continues to be a source for many fine national programs. Wall $treet Week-- an MPT production that aired for more than 30 years-- “put financial journalism on the map,” Krushinsky said.

MPT also proudly produces Motor Week, one of the oldest nationally-run shows on public television.

MPT has a positive effect not only on our local community, but also on the nation.

One of MPT’s most enthusiastic employees, Sierra Deleon-Braitterman, grew up watching WNET, the public television station in Harlem.  She later worked for a time at the Children’s Television Workshop, which produces Sesame Street and The Electric Company — programs that have literally changed the lives of generations of children.

“If it wasn’t for public TV, I don’t know what the Hispanic community would have done,” Deleon-Braitterman said. “It made it OK for Hispanics to learn English … and seeing Rita Moreno on Electric Company made our community proud.”

Regardless of federal funding cuts and other difficulties, MPT will survive. The MPT offices and studios in Owings Mills employ many local residents, and its programming benefits all of us. Krushinsky summarized what makes public television special and worth preserving:

“Public television’s strength is variety and reliability.”

But the loss of federal funding will certainly have an adverse effect, both for local and national public broadcasting.

Beth Matson March 18, 2011 at 02:45 PM
Fantastic article. There hasn't been nearly enough coverage of this issue. We truly need public television. Thanks for giving it the attention it deserves!
Oscar Strangeways March 20, 2011 at 10:16 AM
If you are a Republican, SHAME on YOU! There was a motion to end the $4 BILLION dollars in subsidies the Federal govt gives to the mega-rich oil companies each year. Even after the big spill in the Gulf of Mexico, even after a year when the oil industry made $1 TRILLION in PROFITS (not revenue--profits) EVERY Republican member of the House voted against the motion. The GOP wants to keep giving $4 billion of your money to the oil industry, every year. And yet they also want to stop funding the Corporation for Public Broadcasting!!! Little kids, the elderly, and the poor get programming that they love from public television. Whether MPT would survive or not, CPB needs to be funded. But once again, the Republicans have shown a total disregard for the poor, a total disregard for children, a total disregard for education. The GOP does not like culture, art, or factual news reporting. But they love their fat-cat oil buddies.
Eileen Rudnick March 20, 2011 at 03:32 PM
I agree with Oscar. How can the federal government justify funding avarice at the expense of the needs of average Americans? If we want television that is free of bias and commercialism, we have only one choice. Thanks to the information in the article, it is obvious that the public wants MPT to survive these hard times. We do our part, but where are the Feds when we need them? Good article.
Candice Craig March 21, 2011 at 03:30 PM
This is such an important topic. I'm glad to see that this is being written about on Patch. It's sad for me to know that smaller, more rural stations are the ones most likely to lose programming. Every child deserves the same exposure to the educational programming on PBS. Also, it is one of the only broadcasting companies left (if not the only one) to air intelligent tv shows.

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