Remarks as prepared for delivery on Thursday, November 14, 2013.
It’s an honor to be with you again here in Boston, where former Governor Romney is still former Governor Romney and has mercifully turned his attention from public television to the 2024 Olympics.
When we met a year ago in Florida, the presidential election had just been concluded, and public television had become an unlikely issue in that campaign.
The American people, in their millions, had generated an extraordinary and spontaneous outpouring of support for public broadcasting through social media, and that support had not escaped the notice of political leaders on all sides of our issue.
In the year since the election, we have begun – slowly but surely – to restore a bipartisan consensus in favor of public funding for public broadcasting.
Republicans in the House and Senate have begun to stand publicly with us – as members of the Congressional Public Broadcasting Caucus, signing letters to the House and Senate Appropriations Committees identifying public broadcasting as a funding priority, and – just this week – supporting our effort to include translators in the transition costs associated with spectrum repacking.
These numbers are small. We have a great deal of missionary work yet to do. But the number two years ago was zero, and I consider double-digits a sign of real progress. And more than half of the 22 signers of the translator letter were Senate Republicans.
We are also beginning to restore our public funding in State capitols around the country. During the five years since the recession began, public broadcasting had lost almost $100 million in state funding. But in the past two years, about $40 million in state funding has been restored.
In Indiana, the new Governor Mike Pence put money in his first State budget for public broadcasting this year – the first time in eight years a Governor had endorsed our work there.
Similar progress, perhaps not quite so dramatic, has been made in other States – though, again, we have barely begun to turn the tide.
Still, it is progress, and dare I say I am optimistic there is more progress to come.
I am optimistic because we have found a way to talk about the mission of public service media in a way that resonates with political leaders across the ideological spectrum.
It is a mission of education, public safety and citizenship, and we have a record of service in each of these fields that is unique, undeniable and almost universally compelling.
Public television is America’s largest classroom, and it is the center of lifelong learning for millions of Americans.
Since the early days of Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, public television has helped more than 90 million American pre-schoolers get ready to learn and succeed in school -- and close the achievement gap for low-income students dramatically.
And American Public Television can be particularly proud of its role as the original champion of Mr. Rogers – one of the most iconic figures in American media history.
More than one million teachers have now registered to use PBS Learning Media in K-12 classrooms around the country: more than 30,000 standards-based, curriculum-aligned interactive digital learning objects based not only on public television’s educational programming but also on rich content from the Library of Congress, the National Archives, NASA, the National Science Foundation and other sources of extraordinary content.
More than 28,000 home schoolers are using PBS Learning Media today, and that number is growing rapidly.
Public television brings world-class teachers – of everything from particle physics to Mandarin Chinese – to the most remote schools in the country through “virtual high schools” we operate across the United States.
We run the most comprehensive GED program in America, for hundreds of thousands of people whose high school education was interrupted prior to graduation.
We are helping to retrain the American workforce, including veterans, by providing digital learning opportunities for those seeking training, licensing, continuing education credits, and more.
And through CPB’s American Graduate program, we are helping reduce the high-school dropout rate and keeping America’s young people on track to complete their education and compete successfully in the 21st century economy.
We have also become a powerful partner in public safety in communities and States across the country.
America’s digital presidential alert and warning system depends on the backbone infrastructure of local public television and radio stations to deliver critical national messages.
This same digital infrastructure provides the backbone for emergency alert, public safety, first responder, and homeland security services in many States and communities throughout the nation.
Our stations are partnering with their local emergency responders to equip police cars with school blueprints when a crisis arises, provide access to 24/7 camera feeds for a variety of security challenges (including this year’s presidential inauguration in Washington, DC, connecting public safety agencies in real time, and more.
Local stations are using their broadcast equipment to send emergency alert text messages to cell phone subscribers, even when the power is out.
And many local stations are serving as their States’ primary Emergency Alert Service hub for weather and AMBER alerts.
Finally, we are deeply committed to strengthening our self-governing society by providing powerful tools of information to the citizens of the United States.
Local public television stations and networks serve as the “C-SPAN” of many State governments, providing gavel-to-gavel coverage of State legislatures, real-time broadcast of Governors’ State of the State and other important addresses, court proceedings and more to citizens of a growing number of States.
As virtually the only locally-owned and operated media remaining in America, public television provides more public affairs programming, more local history and culture, more candidate debates, more specialized agricultural news, more community partnerships to deal with issues of concern to constituents, more citizenship information of all kinds than anyone else in the media universe.
Public radio provides civic education in real time 24 hours a day, informing our citizens in greater depth than anyone else on news of the world, issues in all 50 States, and how a richly diverse American culture shapes our political decision-making.
And through the work of Ken Burns, American Experience, and so many of the programs American Public Television provides to you and your viewers, we teach our citizens about their own history and culture – and those of the world they live in – every day.
No wonder nearly 70 percent of Americans across the political spectrum – including nearly half of self-identified Tea Party advocates – support continued or increased federal funding of public service media and consider it the second best investment of federal funds, after national defense.
And what is the cost of all these public media services to the American taxpayer? About $1.35 a year per citizen.
The BBC gets 4 billion pounds a year from a government-imposed license fee. Germany’s Das Erste gets 6 billion euros a year.
We do more with less – much, much less – because we have created the most successful public-private partnership in history, through which every dollar of federal funding generates $6 in private contributions.
You and American Public Television stand with PBS at the heart of that dynamic partnership, and I have come here today to thank you for playing your essential role so well.
Through you, APT provides a panoply of outstanding public affairs and cultural programming to the American people: from a biography of Hubert Humphrey to a mission to Mars, from World War II in Color to the remarkable story of Robert F. Kennedy calming a crowd in Indianapolis following the assassination of Martin Luther King, from an in-depth examination of the Reagan presidency to the diamond jubilee of Queen Elizabeth, from Rick Steves’ Iran to the footsteps of St. Paul.
And in addition to all this, you generate enormous donor loyalty and generosity with programs ranging from The Three Tenors to Doc Martin.
This system could not succeed without these contributions, and you should be very proud of the part you play in this essential public-private partnership that is public media in America.
We in public television aspire to be the civilizing force in American society: the preserver of the national memory, the greatest classroom, the grandest stage, the protector of public safety, the community center and the champion of good citizenship.
We intend to pursue these ambitions by creating new business models, embracing new technologies, streamlining our operations, embedding ourselves deeply in American education, and maintaining the high standards of programming and public service the American people have come to expect of us – and that you guard so jealously.
After a few years of uncertainty and anxiety, I believe we are on a path toward even greater service and success in the years ahead in American public television, and I am increasingly confident that because of your work and that of a great many other people beyond these walls, the future of public television in this country is very bright indeed.