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Senate Votes To Boost Public-Broadcasting Funding

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WASHINGTON--The Senate last week approved a major increase in authorized funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, easily beating back a challenge by critics of the public-broadcasting system.

The C.P.B., a private, nonprofit organization created by the Congress in 1967 to distribute federal funds to the public-broadcasting system, supports numerous educational television shows, distance-learning projects, and other instructional programs.

The Senate voted 84 to 11 on June 3 in favor of the $1.1-billion reauthorization bill, which will cover the years 1994-96. The bill, which was passed by the House in different form by voice vote last November, would increase authorized funding for the C.P.B. by 50 percent.

Earlier in the day, the Senate rejected an effort led by Republicans to freeze C.P.B. funding at current levels. That proposal was defeated by a 75-to-22 vote.

The reauthorization bill became a vehicle for some senators to vent a variety of criticisms at the public broadcasting system. They charge that much of public television's adult programming is liberally biased or lewd and that public-broadcasting entities lack financial accountability.

"It is a taxpayer-subsidized system that has allowed itself to be compromised by chummy in-house wheeling and dealing and troubling ventures into the world of private profit and commercial exploitation,'' said an angry Senator Bob Dole, the Kansas Republican who is Senate minority leader, during a lengthy floor speech last week.

He cited, among other examples, his concerns about the licensing efforts and other financial arrangements of the Children's Television Workshop, the nonprofit producer of "Sesame Street'' and other public-TV shows.

He said the C.T.W. is "probably the best--or worst--example of public dollars funding a profitmaking giant.''

Although "Sesame Street'' no longer receives federal funds, the C.T.W. receives relatively small C.P.B. grants for some of its projects. (See Education Week, May 20, 1992.)

Sponsors of the bill sought to allay some of the critics' concerns by offering amendments designed to make the system more accountable for its use of federal funds.

Senator Daniel K. Inouye, Democrat of Hawaii and chief sponsor of the bill, said he held many discussions with Republican leaders in recent weeks to reach agreement on several such amendments. Among those that were approved were measures that require greater disclosure of taxpayer funding of public-television programs supported by the C.P.B., and greater efforts by the C.P.W. to promote balance and objectivity in the programming it supports.

Distance Learning

The bill also requires the C.P.B. to report to the Congress on making its existing facilities available to expand distance-learning projects in rural areas. Another education-related amendment requires it to report on the feasibility of establishing a "ready-to-learn'' public-TV channel for preschool children.

"I find it irresponsible that we are not using television in a focused way to assist our young children in developing skills essential for school readiness,'' said Senator Jeff Bingaman, Democrat of New Mexico, who sponsored the amendment.

The Senate also added a rider to the bill requiring the Federal Communications Commission to adopt regulations limiting indecent radio and television broadcasts to the hours between midnight and 6 A.M., and from 10 P.M. to 6 A.M. for stations that go off the air at or before midnight.

The amendment, sponsored by Senator Robert C. Byrd, Democrat of West Virginia, was designed to restore limits on indecent broadcasting to protect young listeners and viewers after a federal appeals court overturned a 24-hour ban on such broadcasts. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the lower court's decision. (See Education Week, March 11, 1992.)

The Bush Administration has threatened to veto the Senate version of the C.P.B. reauthorization bill.

The strong support evident in the final vote, however, indicates that such a veto could be overridden. The bill, as amended, must now go back to the House.

Sheila Tate, the chairman of the C.P.B. board, said in a written statement that the "Senate clearly recognizes that public broadcasting continues to be a sound investment for America's future because it cost-effectively addresses the country's educational, social, and cultural needs.''

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