Public b'casters: Reality isn't pretty

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Pitching themselves as the alternative to reality television, public
broadcasters Tuesday formally began their fight to preserve federal funding.

"Our mission is to serve the public. not the market," Robert Coonrod, chief
executive of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, told a House
Appropriations Subcommittee. "The market brings us Survivor and
American Idol, The Bachelor and The Bachelorette, to say
nothing of three separate Michael Jackson documentaries in a single week. Public
broadcasters are in a different business."

Coonrod urged lawmakers to preserve preferential budgeting that allows
the CPB to receive federal commitments two years in
advance, rather than year-by-year, as other federal programs do.

He also asked for funds to cover costs of public TV and radio stations'
digital conversions and for a new satellite system for transporting programming
to public stations.

The CPB -- the conduit of federal money for public stations -- is seeking
$380 million in guaranteed funds for fiscal-year 2004 and $390 million for 2005.

Rep. Ralph Regula (R-Ohio), chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on
Labor, questioned why the CPB should receive advanced funding when critical agencies
such as the National Institutes of Health don't get that advantage.

Coonrod said the arrangement is necessary to insulate stations' programming
independence from political pressure and to give them guaranteed funds that they can
leverage into greater private donations.

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