PBS president: ‘There is no Plan B’ without federal funding

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BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — PBS president and CEO Paula Kerger wasn’t pulling any punches Sunday at the Television Critics Association summer press tour in Beverly Hills.

“When people say, ‘What is the Plan B for (loss of federal funding)?’ There is no Plan B for that,” Kerger said of the potential budget crisis public broadcasting faces under the Trump administration.

The Corporation for Public Broadcasting has been under fire for months, with President Donald Trump’s proposed budget axing the institution’s $450 million budget.

Though it’s easy to suggest that budget cuts would threaten Big Bird’s livelihood, the true victims of defunding would be far more human.

Kerger explained that of PBS’ $450 million budget, one-third goes to radio. Of the television budget, most goes to community service grants, that local stations use for up to 50 percent of their operating budget.

“PBS itself will not go away. But a number of our stations will. If you are a station for whom 30 or 40 or 50 percent of your funding is suddenly pulled away, there’s no way you can make up that money,” Kerger said. “You will find big parts of the country that will suddenly be without public broadcasting.”

The fate of public broadcasting is currently in flux, waiting for the end of Congress’ August recess for resolution. Currently, the House Appropriations Committee has approved the bulk of the PBS budget, while the House Budget Committee recommended doing away with funding altogether.

Budget concerns aside, Kerger also addressed other unresolved PBS matters.

The second seat of “PBS NewsHour” has been vacant since the untimely death of co-host Gwen Ifill in Nov. 2016, leaving Judy Woodruff as the show’s sole anchor.

“We have encouraged (executive producer) Sara Just and Judy Woodruff and the team at ‘NewsHour’ to take their time and think very carefully about who that right person (to replace Ifill) is,” Kerger said. “I’m hopeful that they will be making an announcement sometime over the next few months of a new anchor.”

Kerger also announced an upcoming project aimed at inspiring the country to come together in celebration of literature.

“The Great American Read” is an eight-part series launching in Spring 2018 that explores the nation’s 100 best-loved books, chosen by the American people and culminating in the first-ever national vote to choose “America’s Best-Loved Book.”