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Speaking with TV press for the first time since President Joe Biden was sworn into office, PBS president and CEO Paula Kerger appeared to be in good spirits about her platform’s overall health — after four years working under an administration the often echoed rhetoric about eliminating federal funding for public media.
“We had a great relationship with the Bidens — first as Senator and then as Vice President,” Kerger told reporters, during a Tuesday Q&A with the Television Critics Association. “We are, i would say, cautiously optimistic.”
Biden has yet to release his planned federal budget, but Kerger said that both presumed support from the executive branch and from congress should prove helpful as public media navigates the challenges of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
PBS does not directly benefit from federal funding, so much as the local affiliates — particularly those in rural areas that don’t do as well in pledge drives and among donations from corporations. Ninety-five percent of the federal appropriation of the CPB is provided as grants to local television and radio stations. Very recently, PBS cost American taxpayers as little as $1.35 a year.
Kerger noted that the Bidens’ history of promoting education, particularly through First Lady Dr. Jill Biden, will likely be helpful as well.
“There is really a focus on education [in this administration],” said Kerger. “Certainly this last year education has been even more at the forefront of everything that we’ve been working on. As we have really put a lot of effort into trying to help families cope with time spent at home — both in terms of the programming that we provide on an ongoing basis, but more specifically the work that we’re providing through our Learning Media platform.”
PBS’ Learning Media curates both educational programs for children but also curates free standards-aligned videos, lesson plans and interaction segments — all organized by grade level. Usage has grown as many students have been forced to learn remotely during the pandemic — many of them without the resources needed for live interaction with teachers. “We’re broadcasting educational content for kids who don’t have access to broadband,” added Kerger.
While Kerger did not get into the minutia of how non-federal funding has been impacted by the pandemic, she did note that a number of member stations have been challenged by reductions in local sponsorships — particularly corporate sponsors trimming budgets and the absense of events, long a major driver for fund-raising across the non-profit landscape.
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