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Private Firms Interested in Buying Public Broadcasting, Senator Says

January 23, 1995

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Several communications companies are interested in buying public television networks if Congress decides to cut off federal funding for public broadcasting, Sen. Larry Pressler says.

Pressler, R-S.D., appearing Sunday on CBS’ ``Face the Nation,″ mentioned Bell Atlantic as one company that is exploring the possibility of entering the public broadcasting industry.

He said he had met the heads of several telecommunications companies who ``have told me that they would like to buy and run the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.″

A Bell Atlantic spokeswoman, Shannon Fioravanti, confirmed that her company is in the preliminary stages of looking at public broadcasting.

She said that if Congress decides to privatize public broadcasting, Bell Atlantic would be interested in partnership agreements or buyouts, under a pledge that it would continue high-quality educational and rural programming.

One source within public television said Pressler, the new chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee and a leading proponent of ending federal funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, had made clear for the first time the Republican intentions toward public broadcasting.

``What this is about is Republicans cutting deals with huge communications companies that need television outlets to acquire and cannibalize public TV,″ said the source, speaking on condition of anonymity.″

Pressler’s committee controls CPB’s budget, which this year stood at $285 million, or about 14 percent of the public broadcasting industry’s total income.

He said Congress ``could privatize public broadcasting without losing Barney,″ a character in a popular children’s show.

This could be done by private industry acquiring CPB and program rights or through partnerships where private companies obtain some commercial rights and advertising, Pressler said.

The South Dakota senator also accused CPB of ``running a nasty nationwide campaign against Republicans, saying that we are trying to kill Big Bird,″ the popular character on Sesame Street. He blamed Washington insiders who have ``cloaked themselves in public service″ to protect their own sizable incomes from public broadcasting programs.

CPB Chief Executive Officer Richard Carlson, appearing with Pressler on CBS, said that was ``simply not true″ and that it was the many smaller stations in rural areas that will ``undoubtedly crash and burn″ if federal funding ends.

CPB distributes the federal money to more than 1,000 stations and groups nationwide, including the Public Broadcasting Service and National Public Radio.

Carlson said CPB provides stations in Pressler’s home state of South Dakota with $1.7 million out of their total budget of $5.8 million, and eliminating federal funds would have a serious effect.

The CPB budget, while relatively small compared to those of other government agencies, has been a prime target of Republicans seeking to shrink government and slash the nation’s budget deficit.

The debate took a turn last week when House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., who has previously vowed to cut off all federal funding, appeared to soften his stand.

Gingrich said he was interested in a proposal by Rep. John Porter, R-Ill., to end federal help for financially secure stations, mainly in larger urban markets, but continue funding for small-market outlets and start-ups.

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