Guest Opinions

Public television is an Idaho gem worth sustaining with federal government support

At 35 years old, Idaho Public Television’s “Outdoor Idaho” is one of its longest-running shows, and also one of the most-watched.
At 35 years old, Idaho Public Television’s “Outdoor Idaho” is one of its longest-running shows, and also one of the most-watched. Idaho Public Television

Once again, the Trump administration has proposed drastic cuts to noncommercial public media with its 2019 request. The president’s plan proposes to fund the Corporation for Public Broadcasting at $15 million, a 97 percent reduction. The cutback at CPB would impact all PBS and NPR stations nationally and is approximately one one-hundredth of 1 percent of the president’s $4.4 trillion budget (think 12 zeroes).

Idaho Public Television has an annual budget of $9 million of which $3 million comes from the state general fund. That includes $1.5 million allocated from the CPB, and the balance of about $4.5 million comes from contributions from Idaho residents and grants. Under the president’s proposed budget, Idaho’s public TV station stands to lose $1.5 million. Elimination of $1.5 million of base funding from CPB weakens the sustainability of IdahoPTV as we know it today. What are we risking?

Idaho Public Television supports Idaho’s citizens in significant ways. It reaches nearly 100 percent of Idaho’s population, even its rural areas that have minimal connectivity. It is often the most-watched PBS station per capita in the nation with approximately 450,000 weekly viewers. That’s 27 percent of Idaho’s population. IdahoPTV is one of the most efficient and effective educational resources for preschool to high school levels, serving schools from rural to urban settings. Programs are keyed to state curriculum, and there are more than 200,000 free resources available for Idaho’s public, private, and home school teachers and students at all levels. These educational programs are so important and well-received that IdahoPTV started a dedicated 24-7 channel recently called the Idaho PBS KIDS Channel.

The station also has implemented an array of educational outreach activities for children in local communities, especially in rural areas with events at public libraries, STEM camps and coding workshops. Idaho public school teachers are benefiting from IdahoPTV-led instruction in the use of technology in classrooms. The station; the Friends of Idaho Public Television, a fund-raising arm of IdahoPTV; and key private financial sponsors have made a strong commitment to support education.

We also want to preserve and protect the quality, local content produced by Idaho Public Television, programs like “Idaho Reports,”Outdoor Idaho,” “Idaho in Session” andDialogue.” Certainly, we are big fans of PBS programs. IdahoPTV, through PBS, provides top-notch entertainment, bringing the world to Idaho. In addition, PBS news programming offers balanced presentations of statewide and nationally important events. But no less important are IdahoPTV’s award-winning programs focusing on Idaho topics. “Outdoor Idaho,” one of the longest-running shows, is also one of the most watched. Idahoans learn about the state’s amazing outdoor diversity that influences local culture and economies.

The Friends members represent all parts of the state. While Idaho may seem homogenous, our cultural, economic and social perspectives across the state are quite different because they have evolved over time largely from the influence of diverse regional landscapes and resources. The Friends directors have come to know and love Idaho, and are proud to be Idahoans in part because of what we have learned from our public station. We Idahoans understand the needs of Idaho, we govern, and we are good citizens because we know our state. We would assert that this same identification with our country and appreciation for it grows from PBS programming.

In 2016, the station received 55 national and regional awards, one Emmy Award, and seven Emmy nominations. Without a doubt, our station strongly supports education and provides quality content and outreach so that all Idahoans become lifelong learners and better citizens. Originally, Idaho’s moniker, “the Gem State,” referred to the variety of gemstones natural to our geography. In broad contemporary terms, Idaho is known as the Gem State for our landscape, our resources and our recreation. On behalf of the Friends of Idaho Public Television, we believe one of our state’s most precious gems is our public television station, Idaho Public Television. It’s vitally important that funding continue for it at its current levels.

Jeff Fox, president, and Michelle Britton, past president, Friends of Idaho Public Television.