Trump Budget Takes Aim at ‘Soft’ Media, Arts Targets

Plan batters CPB, NEA, preserves NITA, silent on FCC

Saying it was offering up a “hard power” budget, the Trump administration has taken aim at “soft” targets in the arts and media, though what the president wants and what he gets will be for Congress to decide.

President Donald Trump’s “America First Budget” blueprint, released March 16, put the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the National Endowment for the Arts last, proposing to phase those out in search of dollars to build “the wall” and boost Defense and Homeland Security spending.

Although CPB and its $445 million budget was forward-funded through 2019—to avoid politicizing it—Office of Management and Budget director Mick Mulvaney signaled to reporters that it would be zeroed out by 2018.

Arts channel Ovation TV is already launching a campaign to try and save the NEA’s budget.

The FCC was not mentioned in the blueprint; a detailed budget is promised for the spring. There was an “other agency categories” list that showed an overall 9.8% cut, but it is not clear what the agency’s portion or percentage cut would be. An FCC spokesperson confirmed that the White House had not provided any guidance on its new budget.

One agency that appeared to dodge the ax was the National Telecommunications & Information Administration (NTIA), which is the president’s chief telecom adviser and oversees the management of government spectrum, as the FCC does over the private sector.

While there is a 16% cut in funds for the Department of Commerce, the document said the White House will continue to support the NTIA, at least as far as “representing the United States interest at multi-stakeholder forums on Internet governance and digital commerce.” The administration also said it “supports the commercial sector’s development of next-generation wireless services by funding NTIA’s mission of evaluating and ensuring the efficient use of spectrum by government users.”

The budget is only a proposal, the administration’s wish list. Congress ultimately holds the purse strings through its appropriations power, so none of the cuts is set in stone.

Noncommercial media execs were already beginning to make their cases to Congress. CPB president Patricia Harrison said there was no substitute for the funding the Trump administration was pulling. She said that such a cut would “devastate and ultimately destroy” public media’s mission of education, public safety and “promoting civil discussions,” something that has been in short supply in Washington.

Former FCC chairman Michael Copps, now a special adviser to Common Cause, said the noncom cuts were about taking out a trusted source of “real news.”

Copps said that while the big-market noncoms—the WETAs and WNETs—would survive thanks to private donors, the heartland will lose out.

Perhaps the noncoms that sold their spectrum in the auction saw the president’s handwriting on the walls.