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Patrick Butler's Presidential Address at The 2014 Public Media Summit

Remarks as prepared for delivery on Monday, February 24, 2014.

Good morning, and please join me in thanking Polly and John for their past and future leadership of the Association of Public Television Stations.

I'd especially like to thank Polly for her six years of service on the APTS board and for being such a relentless recruiter of new APTS members – an effort that yielded much success and more than a few well – twisted arms.

I’d also like to thank my colleagues at APTS Global Headquarters for putting on quite a show at the Public Media Summit of 2014. Would the APTS staff please stand and take a well-deserved bow?

And I wish to pay special tribute to our Executive Vice President, Chief Operating Officer, General Counsel, Regulatory Counsel and Corporate Secretary, who is celebrating her 20th anniversary with the Association this year – the incomparable, indispensable Lonna Thompson.

This year also marks the 35th anniversary of the Association itself, and as my friend Bruce Christensen reminded us yesterday, they’ve been a very busy, challenging and productive 35 years.

I’m grateful to Bruce and to all of my predecessors in this job – and to everyone who’s worked at APTS since 1979, on the staff or on the board, and to all of you as members -- for doing so much, so well in the service of public television.

Your Association in 2014 is doing its best to adapt to the changes and challenges of today and tomorrow.

This Public Media Summit itself is powerful evidence of this constant evolution.

Replacing Capitol Hill Day three years ago, the Public Media Summit now takes a much broader strategic view of all the issues facing our industry:  not only the maintenance of federal funding, but also the advancement of our interests in the forthcoming spectrum auctions, the creation of strategic partnerships with which to pursue our public service mission more successfully and comprehensively, a celebration of what’s best in our system, and an exciting exploration of the future of media itself.

Because of this new focus, I can report today that the Public Media Summit of 2014 is the best attended gathering in the history of this Association. We have more registrants, more sponsors, more exhibitors, more revenue and more excitement in this Summit than we have ever had before.

And we are honored to have three United States Senators, two United States Representatives, one distinguished Governor, and all five members of the Federal Communications Commission participating in this historic conference.

Beyond the success of the Summit, your Association has launched important initiatives to help your stations thrive in the new world of public service media.

In collaboration with the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and Greater Public, we have created a Grant Center that has helped secure more than $70 million in federal and foundation grants for public television and radio stations and their community partners in just over three years – and we are sure there is more where that came from.

We are proud to support PBS (and WNET) in the establishment of a “What Works” Station Management Center that will collect, curate and disseminate best practices across a range of functions essential to your success.

And in partnership with NPR, we have launched the Protect My Public Media grassroots advocacy campaign – the successor to 170 Million Americans for Public Media – with a new, interactive and action-oriented website and expanded social media capabilities to support more than half a million advocates who have pledged to stand up for public media at a moment’s notice.

This is twice as many volunteers as we had three years ago, and with your help -- and with the help of the National Friends of Public Broadcasting -- we want to double that number again over the next three years – to a million-strong grassroots army, ready to show a new President, a new Congress, a new Washington that public media are not only a family of essential services but a powerful force to be reckoned with.

Thanks to the commitment of our general managers, our advocacy work also features a grass-tops Leadership Council now operating in all 50 States, with some of the finest community leaders any industry could hope for as influential and resourceful allies.

I’d like to see our Leadership Council include at least one influential Democrat and one influential Republican from every State by the time a new President is sworn in, and I’d love for our current Leadership Council members and all other lay leaders joining us today to stand and let us thank you for your exceptional service.

Our Operation Groundswell initiative has brought more members of Congress into your stations than ever before, and those visits are having a major impact in educating our lawmakers about your public service mission and in rebuilding the bipartisan support we have traditionally enjoyed.

We’ve created an Endorsed Business Solutions program that’s helping stations save big money on everything from credit card processing to energy bills to business insurance.

Our partnership with the National Association of Broadcasters continues to grow and thrive, and we welcome our friends from NAB who are with us today.

And we’ve recruited some world-class consultants to help us navigate a confident course to the future. You will hear from several of them later today.

With all of these resources, this Association is playing an increasingly vital role in the life of our industry, the policy deliberations in this city, and the shaping of the media world to come.

Our Future of Media Task Force is demystifying the bewildering array of technological innovations roiling through our industry, and helping you make good decisions on how best to deploy these 21st century marvels in the service of your communities.

Our Spectrum Opportunities Task Force created a Spectrum Handbook that tells you everything you need to know about spectrum auctions but were afraid to ask.

Our own Lonna Thompson has established herself as a leading authority on spectrum policy, and everybody in the communications industry now has Lonna’s number on speed-dial.

I even weighed in on the spectrum debate myself a couple of weeks ago, clarifying that the purpose of the channel-sharing pilot involving our station KLCS in California is not to prove that all broadcasters can get by with half the spectrum they're currently using - - no, no - - but to show that all kinds of good things can happen -- for broadcasters and for the public -- with advances in compression technology and innovative business arrangements that permit the sharing of significant costs between stations.

We are certain that the overwhelming majority of public television stations will not be participating in the incentive auctions, and will instead hope to employ the technological advances at hand to improve and expand their essential public service missions in American's communities.

We are broadcasters, determined to be better broadcasters and more versatile public servants,and we are here to stay.

Given this robust and growing commitment, there’s much more for us to do -- from renewing our carriage agreements with the cable, satellite and telephone companies to making a new investment in our interconnection system -- and in years to come I hope we can build the capacity of this Association to deal effectively with all of the responsibilities you've given us.

I hope we can greatly expand our communications program to tell your story in more compelling, creative and comprehensive ways.

I hope we can renew the research capability that was one of the founding tenets of our charter.

I hope we can do more with training and planning as our industry welcomes a new generation of leaders.

I hope we can create more sophisticated strategic partnerships with educators, public safety officials, Governors, employers and others who share our public service mission.

I hope we can enhance our expertise in telecommunications policy as we face the prospect of a rewrite of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 and a host of other legislative and regulatory challenges looming before us.

And I hope we can secure significant new sources of non-dues revenue to support all of this work without unduly burdening your budgets.

All of this is possible because a few people decided a long time ago to create the Association of Public Television Stations.

But with all this change, this Association has never forgotten that its first mission is to protect federal funding for public broadcasting -- and we have.

Our politics, like our winters, have been cold and cramped here in Washington and in most State capitols in recent years: burdened by the deepest recession in eight decades, constrained by a crippling national debt, frozen in a vast tundra of ideological tension whose like we have rarely seen in the history of our Republic.

Our own modest needs have been bound up in this profound political permafrost, and we have counted ourselves fortunate to have weathered it as well as we have: with steady funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and Ready To Learn, but with disappointing losses of the Public Telecommunications Facilities Program, digital conversion funds, and resources sacrificed in the government-wide sequester and in the budget battles of the States.

We have borne these disappointments with admirable equanimity, understanding that we must do our part in times of economic challenge, yet firm in our faith that the work we do is essential to our children’s education, our people’s safety, and our country’s success as a self-governing democracy.

We see hopeful signs that the worst of this dreary winter may be behind us.

In State capitols, we have restored about $25 million of the $88 million for public broadcasting lost during the recession. Among the 35 states that provide public funding for public broadcasting, seven have reduced funding in the current budget cycle, seven have held funding steady, -- and 21 states have increased their investments in public service media.

In Alabama, the very conservative Governor Robert Bentley has recognized the value of our work in pre-school education, public safety and workforce training, and he has just proposed a 38 percent increase in funding for Alabama Public Television.

In Maryland, the very progressive Governor Martin O'Malley has rewarded Maryland Public Television’s work in education and civic engagement with a substantial increase in State funding for MPT, including some critical but long-delayed investments in modernization.

And the Governor of Indiana, Mike Pence -- one of the nation's leading conservative figures, a former chairman of the House Republican Study Committee and the House Republican Conference, and, for a growing number of admirers, a prospective President of the United States -- has just yesterday eloquently accepted his new status as a Champion of Broadcasting.

Here in Washington, Congress passed a budget in January, not just for one year but for two, and it enacted an omnibus appropriations bill covering all the functions of government through the end of fiscal 2014.

That bill included $2 million for rural digital, $25.7 million for Ready To Learn, $55 million for Advanced Informal Science Learning, and $445 million for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting – eliminating the sequester and putting $22 million back into the public media system.

And just two weeks ago, Congress approved an extension of the debt ceiling without the customary drama – certainly without the threat of another government shutdown – and many members of Congress are daring to hope for a return to “regular order” in the conduct of federal spending.

The President will submit his budget proposal for fiscal 2015 next week, and we will soon see whether order prevails over disorder in this election-year appropriations cycle.

We are requesting level funding again for CPB, for Ready To Learn, and for the rural digital program that remains an important source of funding for many of our stations.

This year’s elections will have an important bearing on our prospects for future federal funding. Elections always do, and this year's contest for control of the Senate will be especially spirited.

But we have quietly gathered political strength over the past three years, at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, on both sides of Capitol Hill and both sides of the partisan aisle.

We are telling a story of remarkable public service, a story of using broadcast spectrum and new broadband capabilities to educate, inform, protect, entertain and inspire Americans of all ages, races, religions, geographies, political persuasions and economic circumstances.

We are reminding our representatives in Congress that public television has helped 90 million pre-school children get ready to learn in school and succeed in life. That fact alone would more than justify every dollar public television has ever received from the federal government. But there is so much more.

We are talk about PBS Learning Media, an extraordinary educational initiative that brings the power of multi-media, interactive, standards-based, curriculum-aligned learning to K-12 classrooms and thousands of home schools across the country.

More than 35,000 of these digital learning objects have been adapted from decades of quality programming from public television – and from the Library of Congress, the National Archives, NASA, the National Science Foundation and many other resources – and in just two years PBS Learning Media has been adopted by half of America’s teachers and embraced by millions of students and parents in all 50 States.

We talk about the virtual high schools that public television stations operate all over America, bringing high-quality instruction in the most specialized fields to the most remote locations in our country.

We talk about GED programs that help second-chance students and adult learners get their high-school equivalency certificates and prepare themselves for meaningful work in a competitive marketplace.

We talk about our growing expertise in job training and our vigorous commitment to helping America’s military heroes adjust successfully to life in the country they’ve defended so well.

We talk about our surprisingly central role in public safety and emergency preparedness, as the platform of the presidential alert system in times of national crisis and as the backbone of public safety communications in a growing number of States.

And we talk about our indispensable involvement in the civic life of our country, serving as the “C-SPAN” of many State governments, as producers and reporters of the most in-depth – news and the most comprehensive and civil public affairs programming – in America, as curators and preservers of the history and culture of our communities and our states, as the inexhaustible hosts of political debates, and as the new community centers for civic engagement and collective impact.

This is the spectrum of service we provide as the last locally owned and operated media institutions in America. 

We don’t ignore “fly-over America” – we serve it – we love it – and as NPR's head of news Margaret Low Smith reminds us, we relish the "opportunity to capture a much more interesting America."

We don’t treat our audience as consumers, but as citizens and as students. We ensure that safe, family-friendly, high-quality programming is available to our children and their parents as a haven of quality in a raw desert of “reality” television.

And we remind our political leaders that it is their investment – their provision of the Community Service Grants that represent almost all of the federal funding that goes to public media – that makes it possible for us to provide these essential services to everyone, everywhere, every day, for free.

All this, and heaven too: Downton Abbey, Doc Martin, Great Performances, Nature, NOVA, American Masters, Charlie Rose, Sherlock Holmes, Washington Week, Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Fresh Air, Diane Rehm, Peg Plus Cat, SuperWhy, the magnificent works of the amazing Ken Burns, and more – including my new favorite: Asia This Week with Minori Takao.

Because of this federal investment, the Bolshoi can go to Bozeman, Montana; the News Hour to Nockalula Falls, Alabama; the intrepid reporting of NPR to the Inuit people of Alaska; the works of Shakespeare to Shawnee, Kansas; and Sesame Street to the inner city, the suburb and the Sioux nation alike.

This is the work of civilization itself: teaching, curating, preserving, creating, sharing, protecting, connecting, celebrating what is best in our culture and our society.

And we do all of this with a federal investment of $1.35 per citizen per year – not even a rounding error in the federal budget and far less than our friends in public broadcasting enjoy in Great Britain, Japan, Germany, Canada and most other places on Earth.

It may strike some as a paradox, but our work is becoming more important as the media universe expands.

And while we’ve been good soldiers in these cold years of economic distress and political dysfunction, I believe the time is coming when we may fairly ask for more resources from the federal government to pursue our public service missions of education, public safety and good citizenship.

No less an authority than Bill O’Reilly of Fox News opined recently that “it is beyond dispute that television is in deep trouble. These reality shows make ‘Gilligan’s Island’ look like ‘MacBeth.’  They are like unspeakable zombies destroying the entire structure of the television industry.

“Thank God,” said Bill O’Reilly, “PBS is still on the air.”

When Kurt Mische sent me that quote a few weeks ago, he reasonably asked, “Excuse me, did hell just freeze over?”

It did not, but Mr. O’Reilly’s welcome commentary offers extraordinary new evidence that our work has earned the respect, the appreciation and the trust of people across the ideological spectrum.

And it confirms the faith of Dr. King, who taught us that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”

Anniversaries like the one we commemorate this week always compel a look back across the long arc of history, and a review of events in our founding year of 1979 shows how stunning an era this has been – and how seeds planted long ago continue to grow:

The Shah of Iran was overthrown by the Ayatollah Khomeini, launching an Islamic revolution that now stretches across much of the globe.

The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan on Christmas Day and would wage war there for 10 years. Our turn would come two decades later.

And at Duke University, two professors conducted the first experiments on what they called the “use-net” – a network of computer networks linked by packet-switching protocols – that would ultimately be known as the Internet.

These events and others – from the launch of ESPN to the introduction of the SONY Walkman to the premiere of Morning Edition on NPR – remind us that this Association has known nothing but turbulent and disruptive and innovative times in its 35-year history, and anniversaries can give us valuable perspective on what's important, what's enduring, and what "signifies nothing.”

Of all the noteworthy anniversaries of late, none was more poignant, at least for those of us of a certain age, than last November’s 50th anniversary of President Kennedy’s assassination.

Like many of you, and without respect to political philosophy, I have drawn inspiration from President Kennedy for much of my life, particularly from his conviction that we could do more – or Be More, as my friends at PBS would have it – as individuals, as a country and as a powerful force for good across the planet.

His were the politics of hope. He summoned us to think of public service as a noble calling. He beckoned us to the moon. He called on us to create a new world beyond the grim confines of the Cold War. 

And he told us we should do these things – “not because they are easy, but because they are hard “ – as worthy tests of our national character and as epochal milestones in the progress of our civilization.

That progress was important to President Kennedy, not only in the realms of statecraft and spacecraft but also in the province of American culture.

His vision was of an America “which will steadily raise the standards of artistic accomplishment and which will steadily enlarge cultural opportunities for all of our citizens,” an America “which commands respect throughout the world not only for its strength but for its civilization as well.”

This was the same impulse that led the revolutionary conservative John Adams, two centuries earlier, to say: “I must study politics and war, that my sons may have the liberty to study mathematics and philosophy, geography…and agriculture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music … and architecture.”

I believe that this advance of civilization – nothing less – is the enduring, essential work of public media in America.

I am proud that this Association has helped you do work for 35 years.

I believe that after a long winter of hardship, we as an industry and as a country are ready for a season of hope.

And I am certain that for the next 35 years and beyond, the bright beacon of civilization that is public service media will truly light the world.


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