Skip to main content

PATRICK BUTLER'S PRESIDENTIAL ADDRESS AT THE 2015 PUBLIC MEDIA...

Patrick Butler's Presidential Address at The 2015 Public Media Summit

Remarks as given on February 22, 2015.

To watch a video of these remarks, click here.

Thanks, Eric.

Let me join Eric in welcoming you all to the 2015 Public Media Summit.  

We meet today in a Washington whose politics -- and politicians -- have changed dramatically in the past four years.

The United States House of Representatives has the largest Republican majority in 80 years.

The United States Senate has a new Republican majority, as well.

Forty-seven percent of the House of Representatives, and 44 percent of the Senate, have been in office for fewer than six years.

And the elections of 2014 alone have brought 58 new Members to the House of Representatives and 13 new members to the Senate.

Many of these new leaders have come from the ranks of State government; and they have come here with a mandate to make government work again.

The leaders of this new Congress are determined to restore "regular order" to the legislative process.

This means bringing bills to the House and Senate floor with the opportunity for perfecting amendments from both Republicans and Democrats, and finding consensus as our Founders intended.

And especially important for our purposes, regular order means enacting 12 appropriations bills before October 1 to fund the government in the next fiscal year.

"Regular order" is a tall order, and we'll see how it goes. 

But while government has been in gridlock, something important has happened to public television.

We are quietly, slowly but surely restoring our bipartisan support in the Congress of the United States.

Four years ago, the Republican chairman of our House funding subcommittee promised me he'd protect our federal funding, and then he didn’t.

We're still here, and he isn't.

Two years ago, his successor told me he couldn't wait to defund us, and the sooner the better.  At least he was honest about it.

We're still here, and he isn't.

On the other hand, the chairman of the full House Appropriations Committee -- Hal Rogers of Kentucky -- remains a faithful champion of federal funding for public television.

So is the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee -- Thad Cochran of Mississippi -- who's been a champion of public television since his father chaired the Mississippi Public Broadcasting Commission in the late 1960s.

I also believe the ranks of our Republican supporters are growing in both the House and Senate Appropriations committees, and in the Republican conferences generally.

One senior member of the House told me just two weeks ago that he thought we now have the support of a majority of the House Republican Conference.

That may be a little optimistic, but whatever the number, it's a long way from where we were in 2011.

We have also maintained the support of all the Democrats, in both the House and Senate, who've been with us in our darkest hours and brightest days alike.

Let's not ever forget to thank them for that steadfast support.

And let's begin with the President of the United States, who has defended us on the campaign trail and championed our funding with a fervor we treasure.

In the federal budget he proposed to Congress earlier this month, President Obama requested $445 million for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

He also proposed $40 million as the down payment on a new interconnection system for public television, to make sure we can reach everybody, everywhere - - not only with television programming and educational services, but also with life-saving public safety and homeland security information.

And for the first time in six years, President Obama proposed $25.7 million to fund a stand-alone Ready To Learn program at the Department of Education.

In every previous year of his Administration, the President had called for the consolidation of Ready To Learn with other grant programs in the Education Department, in the interest of management and budget efficiency.

But this year, he saw the light and understood that Ready To Learn is not just another federal grant program but a unique partnership of national producers and local stations that has produced significant -- and measurable -- progress in closing the academic achievement gap between rich and poor pre-school children in America.

All of this is encouraging news, and it reflects the hard work you and we have done in recent years to restore the political support we know we deserve.

But we have not reached political Nirvana -- not by a long shot.

Both the House and Senate Republican bills reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act propose to do away with Ready To Learn.

Even our best friends in Congress are telling us that getting $40 million in new money to fund our new interconnection system will be a very heavy lift.

And there are still plenty of people in Congress who'd like to do away with federal funding for public broadcasting altogether.

Former House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan recommended the elimination of federal funding for public broadcasting in each of the last four years.

There’s a new chairman now – Tom Price of Georgia – and a new chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, Mike Enzi of Wyoming - - and we’re doing our best to persuade them that the conservative thing to do is to fund public television as a cost-effective solution to the nation’s education and public safety challenges.

Their programmatic recommendations are not binding on the appropriators – only the spending caps are – but we’re hoping to create a better political climate for public television in every committee with jurisdiction over us, and the Budget Committees are our most urgent priorities.

We go to Capitol Hill this week well-armed for the battles ahead and well-prepared to make our case for public investment in our works of public service.

It is this public service mission, and the growing understanding and appreciation of it in the nation's Capital and in State capitols across the country, that lies at the heart of our political renaissance. 

This Summit is devoted to the three pillars of public service -- education, public safety and civic leadership -- that make public television unique in the media world and give us a strong claim on public investment from both federal and state governments.

Education has been the birthright of public television since the University of Houston’s public television station and the State of Alabama’s public television station and the State of Alabama’s public television network – each the first in the nation – went on the air more than 60 years ago.

From these earliest days as “classrooms of the air” – long before Sesame Street and even PBS were gleams in the eyes of later visionaries – public television stations have played a vital and innovative role in the education of America’s children.  

President Eisenhower, who balanced six of the eight federal budgets for which he was responsible, saw in public television the potential for just the kind of low-cost, high-quality solution to an education challenge that his successors in Washington's leadership can find today.

In the aftermath of the Soviet Union's launch of the Sputnik satellite in 1957, President Eisenhower saw an urgent need for better instruction in science, technology, engineering and math in America's classrooms.

And in the National Defense Education Act of 1958, he proposed the first federal investment in public television for exactly this purpose.

From that day to this, the federal investment in public television has been consistently focused on the mission of education, and General Eisenhower would have been particularly proud of how well public television is accomplishing this mission today.

Sesame Street, the iconic program for pre-schoolers that has helped more than 90 million kids get ready to learn in school and succeed in life, has launched a new initiative called STEAM, adding the arts to Eisenhower's original order for STEM education.

And a whole generation of new PBS Kids programming has expanded that reach and compounded that impact on America's pre-school population.

As Governor Mike Pence, an erstwhile critic who has become a champion of public broadcasting, told us at last year’s Summit, “I commend each and every one of you for the role that you have long played in enriching the lives of our families, and especially some of our most vulnerable and disadvantaged children.”

PBS LearningMedia has gone from a standing start four years ago to an important national institution of its own, with 1,600,000 teachers registered to use the more than 100,000 standards-based, curriculum-aligned, interactive digital learning objects -- created from the best of public television programming as well as outstanding material from the Library of Congress, the National Archives and other sources -- to teach 30 million students in K-12 classrooms throughout America every day.

I showed former Florida Governor Jeb Bush some of the early work of PBS Leaning Media at his office a few years ago, and his response was "Where have you been?  I've been working on the policy side of education reform for a long time, and here you come with content that can revolutionize teaching and learning in this country."

And that's not all.  

Public television stations operate the largest non-profit GED program in the country to help hundreds of thousands of second-chance learners get their high school equivalency diplomas.  

We offer virtual high schools that bring expert instruction in specialty subjects to the most remote classrooms in America.

Thanks to CPB's American Graduate initiative, we're doing our part to address the high school dropout crisis in the United States.  

The government announced earlier this month that the high-school completion rate has gone up from 80 to 81 percent in the last year -- a significant increase in a country our size -- and we in public television can take justifiable pride in our role in that progress.

CPB has also been instrumental in enlarging our service to America’s veterans, investing in job training, veterans’ appreciation events, and other initiatives at stations around the country to welcome our veterans back to a grateful America.

We are getting bigger every day in the field of workforce development, and we will be honored this afternoon to welcome Dr. Johan Uvin, the acting Assistant Secretary of Education for Career, Technical and Adult Education, who envisions a partnership among his Department, State workforce development agencies and public television stations that can make us much bigger players, much faster, in this critical field.

We truly are America's greatest classroom, teaching history, science, civics, American culture and more to 200 million of our fellow citizens every year.

If the federal government's investment in public television were measured by the success of our education mission alone, that investment would be seen as one of the wisest and most productive in the history of our country.

In just a few minutes, we will welcome to this Summit the Governor of Alabama, the proudly conservative Republican Robert Bentley, who last year proposed a 38 percent increase in State funding for public television, and who has said this:

"For 60 years, Alabama Public Television has been dedicated to providing educational services to children and adults in Alabama.  

"I am proud to support public broadcasting and the learning opportunities it provides for our citizens."

That is what we want everyone to say, and the ranks of those who are saying it is growing every day.

But there are two other essential public service missions of public television which this remarkably modest federal investment also makes possible.

One is public safety and homeland security, whose importance in our modern life can scarcely be overstated.

Since the early days after the September 11 attack on our country thirteen years ago, public television stations have played a central role in the communications network that alerts the American people to national emergencies, natural disasters and law enforcement crises.

Our spectrum serves as the backbone infrastructure for the nation's WARN system through which the President of the United States communicates with his fellow citizens in times of national emergency.

Public television has partnered with the Federal Emergency Management Administration to provide the Wireless Emergency Alert system that allows cell-phone subscribers to receive geo-targeted text messages in the event of an emergency -- reaching them wherever they are in times of crisis, even when the power is out.

This same digital infrastructure provides the backbone for emergency alert, public safety, first responder, and homeland security services to many State and local governments.

Public television stations are partnering with local emergency responders to meet public safety needs in highly specialized ways:

-- securely transmitting critical information (like school blueprints) directly to police cars in times of crisis;

-- providing 24/7 video feeds to local law enforcement to address a variety of security challenges;

-- and connecting public safety agencies with each other and with the public when the need arises.

And many public television stations serve as their State's primary Emergency Alert Service hub for severe weather and AMBER alerts.

This robust public service mission is hardly known to the public, or to many of our public funders.  

But it is a critical mission which we in public television are proud to perform, and for which public investments at the federal and State levels are not only well-justified but essential.

We will be honored tomorrow morning to welcome the Administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Administration, Craig Fugate, who will speak to us about the evolving nature of our public service partnership and how that partnership may be strengthened and expanded in the years to come.

Our final public service mission is one of civic leadership: helping our people perform their duties as citizens of the world's greatest democracy.

As some of the last locally-owned, locally-operated media organizations in the country, public television stations play an indispensable and growing role in the civic life of the United States.

We function as the "C-SPAN" of many State governments.

We provide more public affairs programming, teach more local history and culture, host more candidate debates, create more community partnerships to deal with issues of concern, and produce more civic information of all kinds than anyone else in the media universe.

And through such programming as American Experience, American Masters, PBS NewsHour, Frontline and the works of Ken Burns, public television tells the story of America more thoroughly and authoritatively -- and more permanently, through the magic of PBS Learning Media -- than President Eisenhower would have dared to dream.

President Reagan hailed Ken Burns as "the preserver of the national memory," and Ken has said in countless occasions that he could not do his work anywhere but in public television.

Again quoting Governor Pence from last year’s Summit:  “I think one of the great contributions of public television – Ken Burns being emblematic of it, but just one example – is that you more than anywhere else seem to be the place that most authentically tells the American story to the American people.”

Civic leadership will also be a big part of this year's Summit, as we hear from our friends at NHK in Japan, the new president of NPR Jarl Mohn, former Senator Richard Lugar, former Hillary Clinton chief of staff Melanne Verveer, Congressional Black Caucus chairman G. K. Butterfield, and PBS NewsHour co-anchors Gwen Ifill and Judy Woodruff and their new executive producer Sara Just.

These three pillars of public service -- education, public safety and civic leadership -- have proven to be a firm foundation for public television's case for public funding at both the federal and State levels.

I have become convinced that the more of this work we do, and the better we do it, the more hopeful we may be of continued and rising public investment as our economy improves and our government budget crises recede.

And these missions can give your private donors – corporations, foundations and individuals – a rationale for investment in your stations that goes far beyond the traditional appeal of quality programming.

I also believe these public service missions give us special status in policy deliberations on the future of media, whether in the context of the forthcoming spectrum auctions, the adoption of a new broadcast standard, or the looming rewrite of the Telecommunications Act.

Tom Wheeler, the chairman of the FCC, visited Vegas PBS last fall at the suggestion of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and told me on his return that he was "amazed" at the potential of public television to use its spectrum in a host of innovative ways in the public's service.

This epiphany couldn’t have come at a more propitious time, as your Association is working very hard to ensure that your interests are fully protected in the spectrum auction and repacking proceedings now underway at the FCC.

Here, too, significant progress has already been made: 

  • We have persuaded the Commission to commit to a 90 percent up-front payment to public television stations required to repack. Our commercial brethren will have to settle for 80 percent.
  • We persuaded the Commission to adopt a “near-nationwide” spectrum sharing plan, rather than absolute national plan, protecting more of our spectrum in rural areas and in other places where it isn’t urgently needed.
  • And we persuaded the Commission to allow our translators to continue operating unless and until the wireless providers need to claim this spectrum – a remote prospect for many in our translator community.

We will hear a good deal more about the spectrum auctions tomorrow from Howard Symons, one of the leaders of the Commission’s auction task force. 

This remains a work in progress.

We are still a long way from achieving all of our objectives, and there are serious differences in perspective between us and the FCC on the enduring value of broadcast as opposed to broadband communication.

But we have found in every office of every Commissioner and bureau and task force a willingness to listen to our case, and to do what they feel they can to protect the interests of public television.

Indeed, we have found a winning formula for pursuing our entire public funding and public policy agenda, and it rests on the potential that Tom Wheeler saw in Las Vegas.

Realizing that potential -- everywhere -- is the goal of the new strategic plan your Association's board of trustees adopted last November.

"Greater Success Through Greater Service" is the title of that plan and the theme of this Summit.  

But it must also be the rallying cry, the organizing principle and the strategic goal of every public television station if we are to truly "be all that we can be" in the promising new world that technological progress and growing political support make possible.

For its part, your Association has restructured its operations to make it easier for you to succeed in these public service missions, and to make ourselves more effective in translating your success into more public funding and better public policy.

Helping you means creating a What Works clearinghouse, on the APTS website and on the PBS Station Management Center, to share all the best practices of these public service missions with everyone in the system, in the granular detail that will enable you to adapt others' success to your own community's service.

It means creating strategic partnerships with the national associations of educators, public safety officials, civic and political leaders, workforce development stakeholders, and others who share our public service missions with us -- so that you can accelerate your own partnerships at the local and State levels. 

It means providing specialized training where needed to prepare your station colleagues more fully for the work of public service.

It means telling your stories in new and compelling ways to all the people who need to hear them -- not just Congress and the White House and the FCC, but also our emerging network of strategic partners, the news media and social media, and our growing army of advocates.

It means working with you, where requested, on State funding issues, recognizing that State funding for public television represents almost $200 million every year, that much of our public service work requires State government cooperation, and that State governments are the first stops for most of the political leaders who find their way to Washington.

Making APTS more effective means creating a research capability that can verify and vouchsafe the impact and cost-effectiveness of your work with everyone who matters.

It means converting the Grant Center into a self-sustaining enterprise when our CPB grant concludes in September, to continue the service that’s secured more than $70 million in federal and foundation grants for public television and radio stations in the past five years.

It means expanding our grassroots and grass-tops advocacy programs, to ensure that whenever and wherever we need the voice of the passionate many, or the influential few, or both, we will have them, ready to support you at a moment's notice.

It means developing deep policy expertise in telecommunications, education, public safety, workforce development, veterans' affairs, and other fields in which our counsel can benefit lawmakers, regulators, our station community, and the public alike.

And it means positioning ourselves not as a run-of-the-mill industry association but as “America’s Public Television Stations” – partners in public service with the country we love.

Shortly after I joined you four years ago, just as the House of Representatives was voting to eliminate our funding, I attended a meeting of some of the wise men and women of public broadcasting who were pretty gloomy about our financial and political prospects.

One person asked for a show of hands from those who believed that federal funding would still be coming to public broadcasting five years hence.

One person raised his hand.  That person was me.

Two months ago, the Congress of the United States appropriated $445 million for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting for fiscal year 2017 -- one year beyond the doomsday scenario my friends predicted in 2011.

What’s more, we are having a very different conversation about public television than we were having four years ago, and I like the sound of it a lot better.

I believe our focus on the public service missions of education, public safety and civic leadership is making us new friends every day -- on both sides of the partisan aisle, in the halls of Congress and in State capitols alike.

I believe our ability and our commitment to provide low-cost, high-quality solutions to pressing national problems is increasingly appreciated by thoughtful conservatives like Governor Bentley of Alabama.

I believe our commitment to serve the unserved, "the least of these," the great undiscovered country between the coasts, the richly diverse population that is modern America will continue to win the support of proud progressives like Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, the Assistant Democratic Leader of the Senate, who will accept our Champion of Public Broadcasting award on Tuesday morning.

I believe we may fairly hope that, as this broad consensus grows, our prospects for increased public funding will grow as well.

I believe the day is coming when public television will take its place in the pantheon of American institutions which almost everybody loves, respects and values.

Our friends at PBS and the producing stations have made that much easier in recent years, with the phenomenal success of Downton Abbey and other popular programs.  

The fact that public television draws extraordinary ratings, compared with a few years ago, has a political effect all its own.  And so does the remarkable reputation for trust, quality and integrity that PBS shares with us.

But the federal investment in public television doesn't go to Downton Abbey.  

It does go to the works of Ken Burns, and American Experience, and NOVA and Nature, and American Masters, and Great Performances, and Frontline and PBS NewsHour, and Sesame Street and PBS Kids and other educational and cultural programming that civilize our society.

And it goes, overwhelmingly, to you, in the form of CPB Community Service Grants, and it is that community service -- in education, public safety and civic leadership -- that richly justifies the one-hundredth of one percent of the federal budget devoted to our work.

This is not money the private sector will replace.  Private donations go increasingly to very specific purposes and programs, and public service is rightly seen by private donors as a public responsibility.

The Government Accountability Office has reached this conclusion itself, and found that there is no substitute for federal funding of public television.

This is our story.  This is our case.  And as you go to visit your congressional representatives on Tuesday, I urge you to do so not as beleaguered supplicants for federal favor but as confident, proven, willing and able partners in public service.

I'm excited about our prospects, our new strategy, our growing commitment to be public servants and not broadcasters alone, and our potential to be an even more important national institution than we are today.

I made a five-year commitment to serve as your president when I joined you in 2011, and this is the fifth year.  And I know my talented colleagues here at APTS Global Headquarters can carry on very well without me.

But if it's all right with you, and with the approval of the APTS board, I'd like to stay around a while longer and see how all of this turns out.

I’ve changed my mind because I see so many other people changing theirs. 

And I have come to understand, late in my life, the wisdom of Plutarch, who said "the mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled."  

That’s precisely what we do in public television -- kindle the fire of knowledge in a secure and civilized society -- and it’s a wondrous thing to behold.

And as we begin this 2015 Public Media Summit, I am more confident than ever that "the glow from that fire can truly light the world."

# # #

Latest News

New Research Finds Strong Support for Public Television as a Resource For Educating Children and Underserved Populations about Responding to Emergencies

On Tuesday, April 25, 2017, APTS and Eagle Hill Consulting released a statement on a recent study showing strong support for the public safety services provided by public television.
news
America's Public Television Stations Commends FCC For Adopting Orders Recognizing NCE Distinction and Deciding Years-Long Proceedings

On Thursday, April 20, 2017, the FCC adopted orders regarding NCE third-party fundraising and "ownership" reporting forms.
news

The Signal

THE SIGNAL - March 2017

President Trump's Budget Proposal Zeros Out CPB Funding; Protect My Public Media's Petition & New Action; "Dear Colleague" House Letter Deadline Tomorrow; FCC Chairman Ajit Pai Renominated for a Second Term
The Signal
THE SIGNAL - January 2017

Register For The Summit Today; Register for the APTS Webinar: Preparing for Capitol Hill Meetings; APTS Webinar: Compliance with CPB Requirements; Appropriations Update; House Communications Subcommittee Chairman Introduces Bill to Roll Back "Ownership" Reporting Rules
The Signal