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Patrick Butler's Presidential Address at The 2017 Public Media Summit

Remarks as prepared for delivery on Monday, February 27, 2017.

Please take a moment to watch the video of Patrick Butler's speech.

In the beginning was Wisconsin.

In 1917, a group of people gathered in the home of Dr. Earl Terry to hear music broadcast from the University of Wisconsin's brand new radio station.

It was America's first taste of public broadcasting -- a hundred years ago -- and I believe Malcolm Brett was there.

In 1953, Houston's TV8 went on the air, the nation's first educational television station.

In 1955, Alabama became the first state in the Union -- sorry, Roy, in the country -- to launch a statewide educational television network.

These were the origins of public media’s love affair with the American heartland, from whose precincts we came and whose people we proudly serve.

In 1958, President Eisenhower proposed the National Defense Education Act, including a provision to explore the potential of television to improve the quality and availability of education for America’s children.

This Act passed the Senate by a vote of 66-15, the House by 212-85, and it was the beginning of the broad bipartisan support that noncommercial educational television has enjoyed in this country for sixty years.

In 1962, Congress approved the Educational Television Facilities Act -- again by overwhelming bipartisan margins -- and appropriated $32 million for the construction of educational television stations throughout the nation.

As a result of that Act, educational television quickly grew from 80 to 189 stations, reaching 155 million Americans.

And five years later -- by voice votes in both the House and Senate, signifying near-universal support by both Democrats and Republicans -- Congress passed the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967, establishing the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and creating the modern system you lead today.

We are gathered at this Summit to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Public Broadcasting Act, to evaluate our stewardship of the public resources that Act made possible, and to set our course for the next fifty years of service to our country.

We are honored to be joined at this historic Summit by the author of the Public Broadcasting Act, the chief domestic policy advisor to President Lyndon B. Johnson, the Honorable Joseph Califano.

We are also delighted to welcome the man who ran the Educational Television branch of the Federal Communications Commission a half-century ago -- the man who literally wrote the book on the history of American broadcasting -- Dr. Robert Hilliard.

Viewing our past, our progress and our prospects through their eyes will give us a valuable perspective on the meaning of the work in which we are engaged every day.

And then: a vision of the future from one of the most visionary leaders in broadcasting -- the executive chairman of Sinclair Broadcast Group, David Smith.

Later on in the Summit, we'll hear from two giants in our mission of civic leadership:  the legendary Diane Rehm and the wonderful Judy Woodruff.

The dynamic new chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, Ajit Pai, will share his plans for the FCC -- and for us -- and I am certain you will like what you hear.

The Commission, at the Chairman’s urging, just last week issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that will soon lead to the approval of a Next Generation broadcast standard, joining broadcast technology with the constant innovation of the Internet.

This new standard will revolutionize the television viewing experience – brilliant pictures, theater-quality sound, profound mobility, and a highly personalized programming capability.

It will also give us extraordinary new opportunities for service to our communities:

from enhanced distance learning to enriched public safety communications;

more channel capacity for our civic leadership and diversity missions;

and more revenue opportunities from the increased efficiency of our spectrum.

And the timing of the Commission’s embrace of this new standard could not be better for public television.

We have worked for years to make the adoption of this standard coincide with the repacking process that follows the spectrum auction, and with the new Chairman’s help, we have done it.

Many of our stations will now be able to use their share of the $1.75 billion federal transition fund to buy new equipment compatible with the new standard.

We are also hopeful that the new Commission will look again at our translator issue and help us find a way to protect these vital communications links in the post-auction world.

The auction itself wasn’t quite as seismic an event as some had expected, but it’s over – at least our part of it.

It was a good day at the office for some of our stations, enabling them to invest more in the service of their communities.

And we’re especially pleased that it appears the auction will leave no market unserved by public television.

But the repacking process, new channel assignments and re-education of our viewing audience will consume much of our time and attention over the next several years.

The head of the FCC’s spectrum auction task force and his deputy -- and the acting chief of the FCC Media Bureau and her deputy -- will be with us tomorrow to discuss all of these matters in detail.

And we are honored to have the just-retired chief of the Media Bureau, our friend Bill Lake, with us as a special guest today.

In his new civilian capacity, Bill has just signed up as a volunteer in our Protect My Public Media grassroots army.

On Wednesday, we will present our Champion of Public Broadcasting award to:

the Republican chairman of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee with direct control of our federal funding;

and the Democratic vice-chairman of the full Senate Appropriations Committee.

And there's so much more to look forward to in this Summit. 

My colleagues and I are very grateful to all of you -- our professional and lay leaders, our sponsors, our exhibitors, and our speakers -- for supporting us so generously in this time of great challenge and great opportunity.

And may I ask my colleagues at APTS Global Headquarters to stand and be recognized for producing the most successful Summit in our history.

We meet today in a new Washington, with a new President, new Cabinet officers, a new majority at the FCC, 11 new Senators, 56 new Representatives, and dozens of new committee and subcommittee assignments on both sides of Capitol Hill.

Amid the excitement of this new Washington, the past several weeks have been rife with rumors that our federal funding may have been targeted for elimination by the new Administration.

We are advised that the White House is announcing this very hour a budget plan that calls for a $54 billion increase in defense spending, to be paid for reductions in virtually every domestic spending program.

We have no details on what this plan specifically proposes for the corporation for Public Broadcasting, and I won’t speculate before I see more definitive information.

So what do we know?

We know we have a powerful friend at court in Vice President Mike Pence, who as Governor of Indiana stood on this very stage three years ago to accept our Champion of Public Broadcasting award.

We know that the new First Family delights in its children and wants to give them every opportunity to learn, to grow, and to have a safe and constructive environment in which to enjoy their childhood.

We know that President Trump has no higher priority than to keep our country and its citizens safe.

We know that the President is constantly searching for a media source that can be trusted by the American people -- across the political spectrum -- and that empowers his fellow citizens with the information they need to lead the world’s greatest democracy.

And we know that he was elected to be the tribune of the "forgotten men and women of our country," to whom he pledged in his inaugural address:  "you will never be ignored again."

These pledges and priorities mirror precisely the missions of public media in America.

And there's no better time than this 50th anniversary celebration to remind ourselves, our public and the leaders of the new Washington how successfully we've performed these missions for decades.

 -- We've helped more than 90 million pre-school children get ready to learn in school and succeed in life -- starting with Sesame Street long ago and continuing today with the PBS 24/7 KIDS Channel.

-- Fulfilling the dream of President Eisenhower, we help almost two million teachers enlighten 40 million elementary and secondary school students (and tens of thousands of home schoolers) every day.

PBS LearningMedia has created more than 120,000 curriculum-aligned, interactive digital learning objects adapted from the best of public television programming and additional resources from the Library of Congress, the National Archives, NASA, and more.

And with these tools we are revolutionizing teaching and learning in America’s classrooms.

 -- We operate virtual high schools that bring first-class instruction to the most remote areas of the country.

 -- We created the largest non-profit GED program in America, helping hundreds of thousands of second-chance learners get their high-school equivalency diploma.

-- Through the Corporation for Public Broadcasting's American Graduate program, we've helped reduce the high-school dropout rate to a historic low of 16.8 percent.

 -- We are a growing partner in workforce development, using our educational video, digital and community partnering skills to train hundreds of thousands of workers, and place nearly all of them in jobs, every year.

 -- And as America's largest classroom, we bring the best history, science, cultural and public affairs programming on the air to everyone, everywhere, every day, for free.

 -- We are the backbone of the Emergency Alert System through which the President can securely communicate with the American people in national emergencies.

 -- We play a critical role in the Wireless Emergency Alert system that sends local emergency information to cell-phone subscribers nationwide.

 -- Our public safety datacasting infrastructure enables State and local law enforcement and first responder agencies to communicate with one another, and with the public, to keep our communities safe.

 -- At our Summit last year, we pledged 1 Megabit per second of our digital data stream to support the FirstNet federal public safety communications network.

 -- And through the intercession of the office of then-Governor Pence, we have entered into a strategic partnership with the US Department of Homeland Security to promote our public safety datacasting capabilities to homeland security and public safety institutions across America.

 -- We serve as the "C-SPAN" of State governments.

 -- We are the trusted hosts of more candidate debates, at more levels of the ballot, than all of our commercial colleagues combined.

 -- We produce almost 200 daily or weekly series on local public affairs, local history and local culture every year.

And we do all of this, everywhere, serving America's heartland as well as its coasts, through the last locally-controlled, locally-focused media in America.

We'll be able to do a great deal more of this work with the advent of the Next Generation broadcast standard.

And we do it all with the help of a federal appropriation that amounts to $1.35 per citizen per year.

The return on this modest investment is simply striking.

And the efficiency of that investment -- and the quality and ubiquity of the services it makes possible -- are the reasons the American people overwhelmingly support the federal investment in our work.

The breadth of our support in an otherwise deeply riven electorate is simply remarkable:

-- 73 percent of voters oppose eliminating federal funding for public television.

-- Among just Republicans, the margin is 2-to-1 against eliminating our funding.

-- Among only those who voted for President Trump, 70 percent would tell their Senators and Representatives to leave public television's federal funding alone and look for savings elsewhere.

-- Nearly 80 percent of all voters say it's our children's programming, and the free educational tools we provide to teachers and parents, that they value most about public television.

-- Our public safety communications services come in a respectable second.

The voice of the American people is powerful and unmistakable on this issue: leave public television alone, continue its federal funding, and let us do our job.

And speaking of jobs, the last thing this jobs-oriented President should want to do is throw the 23,000 people who perform these essential public missions in communities across America out of work.

But what if he does?

What if his advisors in their ideological zeal convince the President to ignore the will of the very people who elected him?

Ignore all the good that we do every day in America's heartland for the "forgotten men and women" we've never forgotten?

And recommend to Congress that it eliminate our federal funding?

Well, it's happened before.

We had similar challenges in the Nixon Administration in the 1970s, the early Reagan Administration in the 1980s, the Gingrich era in the 1990s, and the Bush Administration in the 2000s.

President Bush proposed to zero out our funding every year he was President -- and we're still here.

We're here because, whether the President chooses to or not, the Congress listens to its constituents, who overwhelmingly support our work and the federal funding that ensures its reach to every American.

Republican majorities in Congress preserved our funding for four consecutive years during the Bush Administration.

Republican majorities in both the House and Senate have preserved our funding during the past two years, as well, including:

$25.7 million for Ready To Learn;

$40 million for our new interconnection system;

and $445 million for CPB –

in the last year alone.

We have strong Republican support in both the House and Senate Appropriations Committees.

The Republican chairman of the Senate Budget Committee has preserved our two-year advance funding mechanism.

The Republican majority of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee unanimously approved an amendment to keep our Ready To Learn program independent in the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act two years ago.

There are 67 centrist members of the House in the Republican Main Street Partnership, and we are confident that we have the support of most of those members on the issues important to us.

One member of that group, who sits on the House Appropriations Committee, told me recently he thought we'd have at least 100 House Republicans on our side in a showdown vote on our funding.

In recent years, we have given our Champion of Public Broadcasting award to:

the Republican chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee;

the Republican chairman of the House Appropriations Committee;

and the new Republican chairman of the House Energy & Commerce Committee, which authorizes CPB.

And this is nothing new. Names like Ted Stevens, John Porter, Charles Percy, Barry Goldwater and many other leading Republicans grace the pantheon of public broadcasting's heroes.

Among those voting for the Public Broadcasting Act fifty years ago were future Presidents Gerald Ford and George H. W. Bush, future Secretary of Defense Don Rumsfeld, and many, many more.

It was President Ford who first proposed our advance funding mechanism to protect our programming from political influence -- and that mechanism has now been in place for more than 40 years.

And underlying all of this Republican support is the unwavering fidelity of every Democrat in the House and the Senate.

This support has been so consistent for so long, it's easy to take it for granted.  But I implore you never to take it for granted -- and to say "thank you" at every opportunity, including our Capitol Hill day on Wednesday.

The margins between the Republican majorities and the Democratic minorities in both the House and the Senate actually narrowed with the elections of 2016.

Democrats now hold 48 of the Senate's 100 seats and 193 of the House's 435 seats.

So we'd need to add only three Republican votes in the Senate and 25 in the House to win an up-or-down vote on our funding.

I'm confident we would win such an up-or-down vote, even if the President were to propose to defund us.

Congressman Tom Cole of Oklahoma, chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee that controls our funding -- and a 2016 Champion of Public Broadcasting – recently said "there is a strong constituency for public broadcasting in both the House and Senate."

And he is right.

Significant changes in budget policy would require a revision of the budget control act –

And any such revision would be subject to a filibuster in the Senate, requiring 60 votes to break.

Severe reductions in domestic spending will not be tolerated by the 48 Democrats in the Senate – or by a majority of appropriations in both parties.

The traditional case for eliminating our funding -- "privatizing" CPB, as they call it -- rests on an assumption that all we are is a television programming service.

To quote the Heritage Foundation plan, "The goal of CPB is ... increasingly met by other media sources.  The range of television options has increased dramatically since the CPB was created in 1967.

"At that time," Heritage goes on, "households faced very limited television options.  In 2013, the average household had 189 channels."

Heritage also suggests that "without federal funding from the CPB, services such as the Public Broadcasting Service and National Public Radio...could make up the lost money by increasing revenues from corporate sponsors, foundations and members."

Well, why we didn't we think of that?

 If facts still matter, consider these:

 -- A formula established by Congress itself requires that more than 70 recent of CPB funds be awarded to hundreds of local public television and radio stations in the form of Community Service grants.

-- These grants are intended to ensure that our work in education, public safety and civic leadership can benefit everyone, everywhere --

not just in the major metropolitan areas where "corporations, foundations and members" are conveniently clustered.

 -- And the government's own watchdog agency -- the Government Accountability Office -- concluded after an exhaustive study that private funding will not substitute for federal funding to ensure the universal service required by the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967.

Some people may not wish to be confused by such facts.  But most will find them enlightening, and many will find them convincing.

In any event, the facts are on our side, the American people are on our side, and we should not fear the battle that may come this year.

Instead, we should rally to the standard of quality, credibility, civility, and courage that has served us so well for so long.

We should remember that these are the things the American people expect of us, admire in us, and are prepared to defend for us.

As we demonstrated in the 2012 presidential campaign, we have an army of millions ready to fight for our cause, through social media and through direct and passionate contact with their representatives on Capitol Hill.

We have become much more sophisticated in our use of such media and our mobilization of this grassroots army through the Protect My Public Media campaign in the past five years.

And these powerful tools can play a decisive role in any struggle in which we engage.

Through our Leadership Council, we now have a nationwide network of community leaders and strategic partners serving as active ambassadors on our behalf.

You have invited hundreds of federal lawmakers to your stations in the past few years and shown them first-hand how much more there is to your service than quality television.

And your own willingness to charge Capitol Hill on Wednesday to tell our story and win new commitments comes at the perfect time to mount our defense.

But the main thing we must do, in the words of Washington Post editor Marty Baron, who joined us at last year's Summit, is do our job.

And what is that job?

It is, most fundamentally, to educate – to give our fellow Americans the knowledge they need to succeed in their own lives, to be safe and secure in their communities, and to perform their sacred duty of self-government.

Only recently:

Frontline produced the most sophisticated analysis of the presidential choice the American people made in 2016.

PBS NewsHour has produced the most thorough and balanced coverage of the Trump Administration in its first eventful month, including an incisive interview with Vice President Pence that he insisted be done with public television.

This fall, Ken Burns will debut a compelling and surprising 18-hour history of the Vietnam War – a massive project that only public television would undertake.

And beginning this very night, Henry Louis Gates, Jr. will take his fellow Americans on a fascinating six-hour journey through 200,000 years of Africa’s Great Civilizations.

Who else would do this?

Who broadcast William F. Buckley’s Firing Line for 30 years?

Who produced all the history plays of William Shakespeare and all the novels of Jane Austen, in addition to Downton Abbey, Sherlock and Victoria?

Who teaches more science to more people every week than anyone else in the world?

Who brings the best of America’s performing arts into every home in the country, from Boston to Bismarck?

Who makes history as accessible as your own attic?

Who brings all the wonders of nature right into your living room?

Who plumbs the works of American genius in literature, architecture, and other acts of artistic creation?

And who explains America’s history, its challenges and its glories, so masterfully, comprehensively and constantly?

Public television does all of this, and so much more.

We celebrate farm life in Iowa, cover the legislature in Idaho, document the history of country music in Tennessee.

We educate prisoners in Alabama, celebrate veterans in Wisconsin, broadcast high school basketball in Maine, football in Georgia, and volleyball in Nebraska.

We explore the future of the Great Lakes in Michigan, race relations in Missouri, Dreamers in Arizona, Native Americans in the Dakotas and Pacific Islanders in Hawaii.

We honor the frontier spirit in Alaska, the Appalachian heritage in Kentucky, the back roads of Montana and Mississippi, and the coal miner’s quiet courage in West Virginia.

We were the first to use closed captioning for the hearing impaired;

the first to use descriptive video for the blind and visually impaired;

the first to launch multicast channels to serve a host of diverse audiences.

We tell America’s story, all of it, every day, to everyone.

We are the beating heart of the American heartland, and America loves us for it.

In signing the Public Broadcasting Act into law, President Johnson said:

"While we work every day to produce new goods and to create new wealth, we want most of all to enrich man's spirit.  That is the purpose of this act.

"So today," he said, "we rededicate a part of the airwaves -- which belong to all the people -- for the enlightenment of all the people."

For fifty years, and more, we have been a light for the nation, shining above the din of politics and war and division and terror and doubt.

And so we must remain, because America depends on us.

We teach America’s children.

We protect America’s communities.

We empower America’s citizens.

We celebrate America’s culture.

We preserve America’s memory.

That is why we call ourselves America’s Public Television Stations.

So let us gird ourselves for the struggle ahead:

with the knowledge that what we do is trusted and treasured by our countrymen;

with the confidence that decades of experience bring to a moment of challenge;

with the courage to do our work honestly, fairly and creatively;

and with the certainty that this work enriches man's spirit.

We stand today at the junction of history and destiny;

proud of our past and preparing confidently for an exciting future;

with tools unimaginable to the people who gathered in Dr. Terry’s Wisconsin living room a hundred years ago;

but with the same mission of enrichment and enlightenment that has guided our way from the beginning.

President Johnson compared the federal support for public broadcasting with the investments Congress had first made in the telegraph and the land-grant college.

“It was in 1844,” he said, “that Congress authorized $30,000 for the first telegraph line between Washington and Baltimore.  “Soon afterward, Samuel Morse sent a stream of dots and dashes over that line to a friend who was waiting.

“His message was brief and prophetic,” the President said, “and it read, ‘What hath God wrought?’”

“Today we might well ponder a different question:  What hath man wrought?  And how will man use his miracles?

The answer,” he said, “begins with public television.”

This is our history.

This is our mission.

This is our future.

And summoning our best against whatever may come, I am absolutely confident we will prevail.

# # #


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