By Paige Hamilton

Trump’s proposed 2019 budget cuts would drastically impact rural public media outlets, threatening local knowledge of foreign and domestic politics

President Trump’s first budget proposal, titled “America First: A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again”, for the 2018 fiscal year, suggested increasing defense spending by $54 billion and decreasing that of federal agencies by just as much. Shocking much of the American public, the budget cuts would come from the Department of Education, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Justice Department among many others. One of the most drastic cuts however, would be to the National Endowment for the Arts and Humanities, including almost all of that for the Corporation of Public Broadcasting (CPB).

The following February, Trump proposed his 2019 budget, which again boasted cuts to programmes deemed unrepresentative of “American” priorities. His “American Budget: Efficient, Effective, and Accountable” included decreasing funding to the Federal Communication Commision by $50 million, with a long-term plan proposing a total cut of $10.5 billion by 2028.

Historically, the American federal government and its public service broadcasters have had a “uniquely American, entrepreneurial” relationship presenting a “private-public partnership”, in the words of CPB President Patricia Harrison. While traditional public media outlets are not government funded so as to avoid being swayed by their agendas, public media broadcasters in the US often receive about 9% of their funds from CPB grants and another 5% from state or local governments.

Losing federal funding would be devastating to rural radio stations that, for some, rely on federal grants for a third of their budgets. Rural stations such as these play a vital role in  providing a reliable educational resource as well as keeping isolated populations informed about current affairs, elections and campaigns.

A 2015 study from George Washington University found that a lack of public media stations leads to a decrease in civic engagement with national politics and an overall decrease in political knowledge. Access to political debates and news allows citizens to debate themselves, taking part in the public sphere and keep their leaders accountable.

The report suggests that the polarisation of American political parties is contributing to the decrease in support for public media stations. It says that without close competition, the broadcast of campaigns contribute little to the “political information environment” and live tracking of election results is less entertaining. Thus, disengagement from the political sphere grows, breaking down the foundation of democracy: citizen engagement.

The need to maintain federal funding for local public service media is as important now as it has ever been. Failing to support those stations through CPB federal funds would threaten local stations’ ability to pay for programmes produced by the National Public Radio (NPR), ultimately stifling their ability to serve as a primary educational news outlet for their audiences. Thoroughly investigated and impartial public media reports allow citizens to intellectually engage in democratic debates and elections, the foundation upon which American politics are based.

Header image: National Public Radio Headquarters in Washington DC. Credits: Ted Eytan/Creative Commons