NEW YORK — Despite efforts to strip government funding for public broadcasting, PBS chief Paula Kerger said the federal budget deal retains most of the money that President Barack Obama had set aside for public television and radio stations.
The deal allocates nearly $430 million for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a 0.2 percent cut from what the president had proposed. PBS is also due to receive $6 million to help public TV stations make the transition to digital services, less than it had hoped for, and another amount for an education initiative with the funding to be determined by the Department of Education, she said.
If passed by Congress and signed into law, this would make for another year where there was much talk about defunding public broadcasting, but no action.
Kerger, president and CEO of the Public Broadcasting Service, said the response of viewers and listeners was key. The advocacy group Association of Public Television Stations coordinated a lobbying effort that had a half-million people send emails to congressional offices and more to make phone calls on behalf of public broadcasting.
"That changed everything," Kerger said. "As eloquent as we hope we can be to articulate the case for public broadcasting, at the end of the day it's really the American people that count."
Three-quarters of the main CPB funding is distributed among the 360 public television stations, with the remainder going to 600 public radio stations across the country.
National Public Radio proved to be the focus of criticism, mostly from Republicans. NPR's president and CEO, Vivian Schiller, resigned last month after hidden camera footage from a conservative activist revealed a fellow executive there referring to the tea party movement as racist. NPR had also been criticized for firing analyst Juan Williams over comments he made about Muslims.
The House voted separately to eliminate CPB funding entirely and to eliminate funding for NPR, but those efforts went nowhere in the Senate.
Joyce Slocum, interim chief executive at NPR, said she was gratified that funding will be retained. "It's a recognition that public radio provides an essential public service," she said. In its lobbying, NPR stressed that the money was for local stations, not for NPR itself.
The budget deal also provides the system with hope for the future. The deal promises the CPB some $445 million in funding for the 2013 budget year, on top of $430 million more set aside for next year. It doesn't mean those appropriations can't be revisited, but it would take a specific effort to undo them, said Anne Bentley, Kerger's spokeswoman.
Critics will be back again, said Wesley Denton, spokesman for public broadcasting critic Sen. Jim DeMint, a South Carolina Republican.
It's a financial issue, Denton said: "They don't need it and we don't have it."
For television stations, an average of 15 percent of their funding comes from this CPB appropriation, Kerger said. But this amount varies across the country, with stations in rural areas far more dependent on the federal money, she said.
Kerger said many lawmakers also recognized the influence that PBS stations have on children with programming geared primarily toward pre-school youngsters. Children's viewership this season is up 21 percent over last year, the network said.
The funding threat also helped PBS with its fundraising among viewers, she said. The number of pledges during the system's March fundraising drive was up 17 percent, with 23 percent more money being given.
During meetings with lawmakers, some suggested that the government help PBS go commercial to avoid such threats in the future. But Kerger said some commercial networks that started with the intention of showing programming similar to PBS eventually had to turn to more lightweight fare.
"If you want to ensure that there is public broadcasting all over the country, then government funding is very important," she said.