Cuts to public TV funding put the squeeze on Big Bird

Facing huge budget deficits, a number of states across the nation are taking a hard look at whether they can continue to support public television, reports. Idaho Public Television already has seen its state funding cut by 61 percent since July 2008, necessitating layoffs, furloughs, and the frequent airing of reruns. Now, a new proposal from Gov. Butch Otter would force it to reduce or eliminate most of its local programming—and cease serving many rural parts of the state altogether. The challenges that Idaho Public Television is facing are emblematic of the decisions that public television stations around the country will have to make if states decide that public TV is no longer a business they can afford to be in. According to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, state and local funding for public TV stations nationwide declined by $36 million between 2008 and 2009. CPB forecasts an additional $45 to $49 million in state and local cuts for the upcoming fiscal year. States have cut back on funding during previous economic downturns, says Mark Erstling, a senior vice president at CPB, but this downturn poses a new threat. “The revenue sources [such as member donations] always made up the difference,” he says. “This time around, everything is basically down.”

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