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2005-06-24

House Restores $100M to Public Broadcasting As CPB Taps Fmr. RNC Chair Pat Harrison For President

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As the House of Representatives votes to restore $100 million in proposed budget cuts to public television and radio, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting names former Republican party co-chair, Patricia Harrison, as its president. [includes rush transcript]

The House of Representatives voted Thursday to restore $100 million in proposed budget cuts to public television and radio.

Lawmakers were reportedly flooded with letters and phone calls after the Republican-controlled House Appropriations Committee cut $100 million from the $400 million budget of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. The committee also eliminated subsidies for educational programs and technological upgrades.

The House voted 284 to 140 to restore money to the budget. More than 80 Republicans broke rank to support the amendment.

Public broadcasters will face much smaller cuts if the amended government appropriations bill is adopted by the House today and the Senate later this summer. If approved, the current budget reduction would amount to a 25 percent cut for public broadcasting–far less than the 46 percent originally proposed.

While Thursday vote came as a victory to public television and radio officials, concerns over the politicization of the CPB continue. Yesterday, the CPB board announced they had tapped former Republican party co-chair, Patricia Harrison, to lead the organization.

Harrison is currently a high-ranking official at the State Department. She was co-chair of the RNC from 1997 until January 2001, helping to raise money for Republican candidates, including George W. Bush.

In her State Department role, Harrison has praised the work of the department’s Office of Broadcasting Services, which in early 2002 began producing feature reports — some coordinated by the White House–that promoted the administration’s arguments for the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. The reports were distributed free to domestic and international TV stations. In testimony before Congress last year, Harrison said the Bush administration regarded these "good news" segments as "powerful strategic tools" for swaying public opinion.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined now by Timothy Karr, campaign director of Free Press, a media reform organization. Runs a blog called MediaCitizen.org. Welcome to Democracy Now!

TIMOTHY KARR: Thank you, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, can you talk about the significance of this appointment, of her involvement in these VNRs, video news releases, and the Republican Party?

TIMOTHY KARR: Sure, certainly. Patricia Harrison was supposedly brought on after an exhaustive research or education and recruitment process, but in fact we know that she has a long history with Kenneth Tomlinson, who is the current chair of the Corporation of Public Broadcasting. And in her former role as the Assistant Secretary for Education and Cultural Affairs at the State Department, she produced what are called video news releases. These were meant to spread good news about the war, as you said, and they were used to educate Arab and Muslim journalists on how to present the war. This is just another form of propaganda. And she is joined now by Kenneth Tomlinson, who himself served as a director — continues to serve as the director of the Broadcasting Board of Governors. This is the body that oversees such government mouthpieces as Voice of America, Radio Free Europe. So, what we are seeing here is a fairly well-orchestrated campaign to turn non-commercial media, Public Broadcasting, into yet another mouthpiece of the official White House view.

AMY GOODMAN: Into state media?

TIMOTHY KARR: Into state media. And they’re using the rhetoric of objectivity and balance. This is something we have heard from their counterparts over at Fox News channel. Objectivity and balance and fairness and balance are really just more a provocation. They’re meant as a provocation more than actual statement of fact. What they’re trying to do is use this to cloak efforts to create a more government-friendly news business. They have been very successful in co-opting commercial news, you see, in co-opting, embedding commercial reporters. Now they’re marching on the non-commercial media system. So, we have been very effective in fighting this thus far. But there was a victory yesterday on the Hill, but we, of course, lost some ground in C.P.B. So, we’re —

AMY GOODMAN: Would it be too cynical to say that the Republicans decided to restore the funding cuts now that the person in charge of the C.P.B. that will get the money is the former co-chair of the Republican Party?

TIMOTHY KARR: The Republicans decided to restore the funding cuts. Remember, 40% of House Republicans voted to restore them yesterday, because their phones were ringing off the hook. Organizations like Free Press, MoveOn, Common Cause and others have mobilized millions of Americans to speak out against these cuts. They — survey after survey tell you that Americans trust Public Broadcasting more than any other media. And it was very easy in many ways for us to go out to the public and say, "Save this last vestige of good journalism."

JUAN GONZALEZ: But would it be even more cynical to speculate that the move to cut the funding was actually to some degree an attempt to take the heat off the actual move to put Harrison in, and in essence, get the public concern about restoring funding more than Harrison getting into office?

TIMOTHY KARR: I think that there’s a real public education campaign that needs to — people need to understand. People need to understand that there’s a two-fisted campaign here. One is both to gag Public Broadcasting. The other is to starve it. And more and more Americans are coming out and fighting this. And you should go to Free Press to learn more about this.

AMY GOODMAN: Tim Karr of Free Press. Thank you very much for being with us.

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