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Inside Politics

Public broadcasting chief under fire

NPR exec cites 'irresponsible' charges of bias

Bill Moyers

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A top official at National Public Radio blamed a proposed $100 million federal budget cut for public broadcasting on "irresponsible" charges of political bias made by the head of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting itself.

In a memo e-mailed to his staff Friday, NPR's executive vice president, Ken Stern, charged that "the recent public turbulence caused by CPB Chairman Ken Tomlinson's irresponsible attacks on public broadcasting has created an atmosphere conducive to this action."

An NPR employee provided the memo to CNN.

A House Appropriations subcommittee Thursday lopped 25 percent from the proposed CPB appropriation of $400 million for next year. That puts funding at $300 million, the amount it got in 2000.

The money could be restored as the measure moves through the full House, or when it gets to the Senate.

Tomlinson -- a Clinton appointee to the board who became chairman in September 2003 -- issued a statement saying he also objected to the cuts.

"Obviously, we are concerned, and we will be joining with our colleagues in the public broadcasting community to make the case for a higher level of funding as the appropriations measure makes its way through Congress," Tomlinson said.

Created by Congress in 1967, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting is considered the largest single source of funding for public television and radio programming.

It invests in more than 1,000 public TV and radio stations around the country, underwriting about 15 percent of the total cost of public broadcasting.

CPB also provides money to produce programming, including educational shows for children and documentaries.

NPR, Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) and Public Radio International (PRI) distribute programs to local stations.

'Disturbing' and 'dangerous'

In his memo, Stern said the cut would have no immediate impact on NPR, which receives little direct funding from the CPB.

However, local stations that depend on federal money could be affected, which in turn could have an impact on NPR because fees and dues from stations are its largest revenue source, he said.

"A reduction in that consistent revenue stream could imperil our expansion plans for next year and beyond," Stern said.

In May many public broadcasting supporters cried foul when Tomlinson acknowledged that he hired a consultant to track the content of "NOW," a PBS program that he believed had a liberal bias.

Tomlinson urged the network to add "political balance" to its programming lineup.

The former host of the show, Bill Moyers, accused the CPB chairman of trying to tear down the "firewall between political influence and program content," calling his actions "disturbing" and "dangerous."

But Tomlinson, a former director of Voice of America during the Reagan administration, said the issue of political bias in public broadcasting needed to be addressed because it jeopardized private financial support that underwrites much of the cost.

He said that in trying to achieve balance, the CPB would not engage in either "pre-broadcast censorship or post-broadcast penalties of public broadcasters."

The previous month the CPB board appointed two ombudsmen to review programs for accuracy and balance -- Ken Bode, a former CNN and NBC correspondent who moderated PBS's "Washington Week in Review," and William Schulz, executive editor of Reader's Digest.

CNN's Ted Barrett contributed to this report.

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