Calling public TV elitist, Gingrich seeks cut in funds

January 18, 1995|By Holly Selby | Holly Selby,Sun Staff Writer

Calling supporters of public television a "small group of elitists," Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich yesterday charged the Public Broadcast System with using taxpayers' money to lobby for donations, and he renewed his vow to cut federal support of public TV and radio.

"I am offended at the idea that PBS is running around the country using taxpayers' money to lobby," Mr. Gingrich said at a press conference in Washington. "That's an example why the funding ought to be cut."

Mr. Gingrich was responding to an opinion poll commissioned by PBS that found 49 percent of Americans think federal support for public broadcasting should be increased.

The Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which oversees both PBS and National Public Radio, received $285 million in federal funds in 1995; public television receives 75 percent of that amount.

Federal money makes up about 14 percent of public television's annual $160 million budget, with the rest coming from donations and grants, according to Karen Doyne, a PBS spokeswoman.

The survey found that 13 percent of the 1,005 adults questioned wanted cuts in government financial support for the public network. Its release yesterday comes about a month after Republican leaders threatened to "zero out" federal support for public broadcasting, and was timed to coincide with a speech given by PBS President Ervin Duggan in defense of public television.

Tomorrow, a House appropriations subcommittee begins hearings on whether to make cutbacks in federal funding for public broadcasting.

"My question is, what is a tax-supported institution doing publishing a poll?" Mr. Gingrich asked. "What is PBS doing using tax money to lobby the American people to send it more tax money?"

The speaker also wondered aloud what Americans would have said if they were asked to choose between cutting funding to Head Start programs or to PBS. "If [public television stations] are so valuable, why can't they find another source of income?" he asked.

However, Ms. Doyne said the money used to pay for the survey came from member stations, not from taxpayers. The poll, conducted early this monthby Opinion Research Corp of Princeton, N.J., cost about $5,000.

Moments after Mr. Gingrich's comments, at a National Press Club luncheon, PBS president Duggan called the Republican's pronounce ment that he would "zero out" federal funding for public TV, "the modern version of 'off with its head.' "

Saying that public television costs American taxpayers about $1.09 per person per year, Mr. Duggan said that PBS was not "elitist." He described it as an "incredibly frugal system" that receives a small amount of federal money and uses that to raise still more.

"[Public television stations] do not eat tax dollars. They plant them and grow wonderful things for the nurture of their fellow countrymen," he said.

In reaction to Mr. Gingrich's comments about using tax dollars to lobby, Mr. Duggan said: "Those who do not want the people of this country, the local board members and business people and educators of public television, to have a voice, those who don't want them to say a word in their defense, will raise this spurious issue and suggest a scandal here."

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