For every federal dollar your average regional radio or television station uses as seed money, six more will come “from viewers like you!” – Lonna Thompson
Funding allocated to the America’s Public Television Stations and the local/regional radio and television around the nation was just one of the critical issues Lonna Thompson discussed Tuesday with the UF Law’s Entertainment And Sports Law Society.
Thompson is the executive vice president, chief operating officer, and general counsel of America’s Public Television Stations (APTS), a nonprofit membership organization that ensures a strong and financially sound public television system and promotes the legislative and regulatory interests of PBS stations at the national level through direct advocacy and grass tops and grass-roots campaigns.
Balancing Funding on a Tight Rope
Currently, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) is at risk under President Trump’s administration’s efforts to create a “skinny budget,” for the privatization of CPB funding.
Donations aren’t just for operation or a heating system. They help the seed money that then leads to viewers contributing donor money. The relationship between the government’s funding, media administration and the people heavily affects public broadcasting’s availability, or lack thereof.
“While we were disappointed in the president’s budget, this isn’t unique,” Thompson explained. Presidents have done this in the past. ON both sides of the isle, we have champions. Through them, we have been able to keep our funding intact. They hear from folks like you who call them up and say, “I don’t want to cut the funding of public media.”
Ryan Wolis, 1L, asked Thompson, “With the current climate, …. with the president there has been a decline in social programs. Politics aside, what would your opinion be if the election went the other way in terms of funding?”
Thompson replied that both Republican (more often) and Democrat presidents have cut or funded public broadcasting. They just do it differently. For example, “under Obama, President Obama did not like a lot of small programs [an example would be a children’s workshop/show], so he wanted to consolidate them into larger programs.”
Thompson said the largest problem we face is the deficit, and that is why these programs are at risk.
What does this do for the popular shows we are all used to? We’ll have to wait and see.
The FCC Comment Process Matters
The APTS, a sister organization of PBS, represents the interests of 70 percent of public television stations across the nation. It is in constant contact with legislators in D.C. on both sides of the aisle who support funding public television.
When law goes to agencies like the Federal Communications Commission, policies and rules are then developed. Along the way parties, advocacy organizations and citizens can offer comments and opinions. The comments posted to the FCC help shape these rules.
If a party is not happy, they can take the issue to court. With the FCC, the issues generally go to the federal court of appeals level. This is because their policies affect First Amendment freedoms, openness on the Internet, net neutrality, and the favoring of certain programs/carriers.
With technology evolving so rapidly, Thompson says this process has been especially important. It is also difficult to manage, like when the net neutrality debate was reaching a peak in 2014. The FCC then received over 3.5 million comments. The debate may reemerge again now with the newly appointed chairman, Ajit Pai.
Technology also has its range of benefits, started with digital television more than 10 years ago, which allowed stations to diversify their programming even more. With the current state of television market, the spectrum has increased, so stations who could only offer five channels may now be able to offer 10. “We can then be able to send data over channels, like lesson plans for teachers, video clips,” Thompson said, giving a nature show as an example.
Thompson has been working for the APTS for almost 23 years. Prior, she spent 10 years in private practice, and five at a small firm, and then five years with a communications team.