The nearly 1,400 public radio and television stations across the US have been greenlit by the House of Representatives to receive $175 million in COVID-related assistance.

Campaign group Protect My Public Media reported earlier this week that the legislation – expected to be shortly signed into law by President Joe Biden – will help maintain enhanced programming and services provided by local stations. The assistance will also safeguard financially vulnerable stations that serve rural and remote communities.

The $175 million fund comes on the heels of months of uncertainty regarding the federal support public media could receive in light of the global COVID-19 pandemic.

In a statement, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) CEO and President, Patricia Harrison, welcomed the stabilisation funding, saying, “The funding to CPB will be directed to local public media entities that are continuously responding to the pandemic’s impact by providing essential educational, informational, and public safety services. Stations in all 50 states are informing their local communities about the latest coronavirus vaccine and economic developments, increasing access to distance learning with innovative educational resources, and helping protect communities by transmitting emergency alerts and sharing public health and safety information during natural disasters and throughout the pandemic.

“As the nation continues to recover from the pandemic, the stabilisation funding from Congress will support these valued public media services and sustain the broad reach and access that keeps public media resources available online, over-the-air and in communities across the country.” – Patricia Harrison, CEO & President of CPB

Meanwhile, Protect My Public Media has said its focus has now turned to advocating for “essential annual federal funding for public media stations”. The annual funding process usually commences upon the US President’s submission of his budget to Congress. The organisation has launched a petition to urge President Biden to invest more heavily in public media.

The last financial support for public media was an approved appropriations package in late July 2020. The approval means that increased funding of $515 million should be available for the CPB in Fiscal Year (FY) 2023, an increase of $50 million.

The House of Representatives Appropriations Committee also recommended level funding of $20 million in FY2021 for Interconnection – the distribution network that enables local public media to connect with one another, and provide free programming and essential emergency communications – along with $30 million for the Ready to Learn scheme, which supports the creation of education content for public media.

Beyond the financial challenges brought on by the pandemic, funding for public media has been under significant threat in recent years. Several attempts were made under the Trump administration to cut funding to public media. A defunded public media system could result in dire consequences, such as the loss of many local news organisations, the creation of news deserts for many localities and remove an essential source of trusted news, information and education.

The Public Media Alliance supports calls for additional and emergency funding to support independent public media in the US. We will also continue to monitor and report on these unfolding developments.

Header Image: North Capitol Street, Washington, DC, the national headquarters of National Public Radio. Credits: Ted Eytan/Creative Commons