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Patrick Butler's Presidential Remarks at The 2012 Public Media Summit

Remarks as prepared for delivery on Monday, February 27, 2012.

When we met here a year ago, the House of Representatives had just voted to eliminate all federal funding for public broadcasting.

Our industry was lurching from one crisis to another.

The bipartisan support we had enjoyed for decades had disintegrated in a toxic sea of partisanship, budget deficits and ideological tension that engulfed and paralyzed this city.

And a legend in this business declared at this very meeting:  “I sense defeat in this room.”

What a difference a year makes.

The appropriation for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting in the final funding bill for fiscal 2011 went from zero to $445 million.

With important new support from leading Republicans in the House of Representatives, the funding bill for fiscal 2012 gave us another $445 million.

We kept the two-year advance funding mechanism that has kept this industry, and those we serve, steady and secure for 35 years.

The Congress preserved our $27.3 million Ready To Learn program – not once but twice.

And the same House Republican majority that had voted to defund us in February proposed in December to give us up to $3 billion to pay for the transition costs associated with the forthcoming spectrum auction.

That’s $2 billion more than the Democratic majority in the Senate proposed.

In the final legislation enacted just two weeks ago, the House and Senate compromised at $1.75 billion – not what we wanted, not what we needed, but $750 million more than there would have been without the Association of Public Television Stations.

We didn’t win them all. Nobody since the 1972 Miami Dolphins has won them all.

We lost the CPB digital fund. We lost PTFP. And the rural digital fund was reduced from 4.5 million to 3 million dollars.

Altogether the federal investment in public broadcasting has been reduced by more than 10 percent over the last two fiscal years, and while we understand the economic imperatives of our times, our system is much the poorer for it.

But we are still here. Our principal funding is intact. President Obama has proposed another $445 million for us in his latest budget, and we are very grateful for his support.

Washington wisdom has it that we are likely to bump along this year with a series of stop-gap funding measures through the election; and that the mother of all lame-duck Congresses will come back after the elections to deal with a host of pressing tax and spending issues.

Uncertain as these prospects may be, we can take great confidence in the fact that we have earned the support of some of the most powerful Republicans and Democrats in this city. And we have made ourselves a force to be reckoned with in Washington, DC.

We were supposed to be joined this morning by the distinguished chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Daniel Inouye of Hawaii, a progressive Democrat who has been as faithful a friend of public broadcasting as any industry could hope for.

We were honored yesterday afternoon to be joined by the distinguished chairman of the National Governors Association, Governor Dave Heineman of Nebraska, a conservative Republican who shares our vision of a partnership between public television and the States on work ranging from education to job training to well-informed citizenship.

We will be joined tomorrow by the distinguished Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee – Hal Rogers of Kentucky – a conservative republican who gave us crucial support in our darkest hour of need last year.

And by Congressman Ed Markey of Massachusetts, a progressive Democrat and the long-time Chairman of the House Communications Subcommmittee who has stood with us every day since his election to Congress in 1976.

Today we will welcome Aneesh Chopra, who as Chief Technology Officer for the Obama Administration has forged a promising partnership between public television and the US Department of Education to enhance teaching and learning in classrooms across America.

We will also welcome the Chief of the Media Bureau of the Federal Communications Commission to tell us as no one else can about the future of spectrum auctions and what they will mean to public television.

And at our lunch being sponsored today by Pat Harrison and CPB – whose American Graduate initiative is doing so much, with your help, to address the drop-out crisis in American education -- we will hear from the former Governor of Pennsylvania, and former Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge, who will tell us why he values public broadcasting so much in difficult times like these.

I don’t know how many other associations are attracting that level of bipartisan leadership to their meetings this week, but I doubt that anybody is doing better than the Association of Public Television Stations.

This Association is doing better, and doing more, on other fronts as well.

A year ago, a little more than 70 percent of public television stations were members of APTS. Today 78 percent of those stations are members, and I am confident that a year from now, we will have crossed the 80 percent membership threshold.

More people have registered for this Public Media Summit than for any annual meeting in the history of this Association, and I’d like to thank you all for coming, and thank my colleagues Joyce Burgess Schwarz, Tela Hansom-Pitt, Ken Blunt, Tammye Heatley, Kesha Jones and Chris Shipley for helping us make it the most successful APTS meeting ever.

We have an Exhibit Hall full of vendors ready to do important business with you. We are grateful for their support, and that of our generous Summit sponsors, and I encourage you to spend some time with these good friends of our industry.

Under the careful management of our vice president for finance and administration Emil Mara, your Association is making tremendous operational and financial progress, as a business enterprise.

As we will describe in greater detail this afternoon, we have entered into a partnership with our friends at the National Association of Broadcasters that will offer all kinds of new membership benefits to help you reduce your costs and manage your stations more effectively than ever before.

The Public Media Summit has succeeded Capitol Hill Day just as this Association has broadened and deepened its commitment to serving your stations and our system. Our charter commissions us to provide planning, research and communications services to this industry, as well as advocacy, and that is exactly what we intend to do.

We will work with you to build the most efficient, most innovative, most successful system of public broadcasting we’ve ever had in this country.

And nobody will work harder than my remarkable partner in this enterprise, the executive vice president, chief operating officer, general counsel, regulatory counsel and den mother of this Association, the wonderful Lonna Thompson.

Yesterday we heard about dozens of initiatives being undertaken by public television and radio stations across America that are producing more viewers, more listeners, more public support, more private donors, more revenues and more growth under a simple strategy of doing well by doing good and urging people to invest in our success.

We heard how public broadcasters have fully embraced the concept of being public service media, expanding their mission to become the biggest job trainer in Nevada, the true community center of St. Louis, the content manager for most of Nebraska, the platform for all kinds of community activities in Rochester, the comprehensive servant of senior citizens everywhere, and much more.

We learned about how the lay leadership of our industry is being marshaled more comprehensively and effectively than ever before to help us with new business models, more ambitious public-private partnerships, sophisticated fundraising assistance, and better communication with policy-makers.

We celebrated a true legend of public broadcasting – Jim Lehrer – a living symbol of the journalistic quality and integrity that is our birthright in public broadcasting.

This morning we saw a glimpse of the future of mobile technology and what it may mean to our business success as well as our public service mission in emergency response.

Later this morning you will hear from your Association’s crack legislative team – Will Glasscock, Jen Kieley, Kate Riley and Cait Beroza -- about our political prospects in Congress this year and our plans for securing our public policy goals.

This will be the last such briefing for Will, who with his wife Amy, will be joining the Peace Corps and moving to Indonesia this spring. Will, thank you for a job very well done.

You will also hear from Stacey Karp, our director of communications, about the extraordinary progress of the 170 Million Americans grassroots initiative. We are proud to be partners in this effort with American Public Media, and please join me in thanking APM’s Jon McTaggart and Jeff Nelson for making this program so successful.

And we will hear from Meegan White and Emily Markham about the Grant Center we have built with CPB funding, in partnership with public radio’s DEI and Doug Eichten, and how you can make the most of the public and private funding sources the Grant Center has identified for your stations.

This afternoon we will welcome the president of PBS, Paula Kerger, who has the hottest show on television – has anybody here seen Downton Abbey? -- and a plan to make the most of it. We will hear from the new president of NPR, my old friend Gary Knell of Sesame Street fame, who will share with us his exciting vision of the future of public radio.

This evening we will be treated to an exquisite dinner program courtesy of NHK, the Japanese public broadcasting system, from which we have much to learn about serving the public with quality, integrity, ingenuity and pride.

And tomorrow morning we will go to Capitol Hill to be greeted by the chairman of the Congressional Public Broadcasting Caucus, Earl Blumenauer of Oregon, and to be inspired by public television’s best, the incomparable Ken Burns.

And then we’ll fan out across the Capitol to tell the story of public broadcasting in hundreds of Senate and House offices.

The diversity you see in this program is symbolic of the diversity you will see in this Association’s service to you in the years to come. So is the strategic focus, so is the alliance between television and radio, and so is the commitment to aim high, go deep and reach out constantly to our colleagues in this industry.

We intend to create a “what works” clearinghouse for all of this information and good counsel for the benefit of the members of this Association.

We intend to launch a major communications initiative that will tell the story of your good works more comprehensively and compellingly than ever before.

We intend to be your link to experts on matters ranging from spectrum reform to technological progress to better business management.

And we intend to be your full partner in the success of this system in the 21st century, working with you to pursue every good idea for financial growth, useful innovation, and enhanced public service.

But with all of this, we will never forget or forgo our fundamental mission of advocating your interests here in Washington.

For all the progress we’ve made in the past year, we know very well that serious challenges lie ahead for our industry and its prospects for federal funding.

If the Secretary of Defense is publishing plans to reduce his own department’s spending by $500 billion over the next ten years, to help reduce the trillion-dollar federal deficit and reorder our country’s national security priorities, we would be foolish to assume that no further financial sacrifice or system reform will be demanded of public broadcasting.

Our “steady as she goes” strategy for navigating these turbulent waters has brought us success thus far, but everyone from the Obama Office of Management and Budget to the House Republican Conference is insisting that we search our system for every efficiency, every innovation, every cost saving, every revenue stream, every management improvement we can find.

If we refuse, or if we fail, there are plenty of people in this city, or people hoping to come here, who will find them for us – and we are not likely to appreciate their suggestions.

Conservative Congressmen make generous private contributions to public broadcasting, and they ask why more such contributions couldn’t eliminate the need for federal funding.

Sensible Senators appreciate our work, but they wonder why we can’t have a system of 50 State networks for public television.

Governor Romney loves what we do, but he’d also love to put corn flake commercials in the middle of Sesame Street.

Our system will be rationalized and reformed in the years just ahead. The only question is whether we will do it ourselves, or leave it to others to do it for us.

I prefer to take these matters – our fate – in our own hands and find a better way forward on a path of our own choosing. But this work must be done, and we must do it now.

This means getting serious about everything from joint master control rooms, to sorting out our service strategy in overlap markets, to making the most of our digital spectrum and other opportunities that new technologies afford us.

It means turning our focus from being the nonprofit branch of the media world to being the media branch of the nonprofit world and unlocking the potential of partnership with the $1.5 trillion universe of private philanthropy.

It means becoming a better partner with corporate marketers who crave our large and desirable audience but who too often find it all too frustrating to do business with us.

It means following the good example of Caryn Mathes at WAMU Radio here in Washington, who has nearly tripled her revenues in the last seven years and made her station a ratings powerhouse in the Nation’s capital.

It means being better managers, better innovators, better media than we’ve ever been before.

And while we do these things, we must expand the army of advocates who saved our industry from destruction last year.

The 170 Million Americans grassroots advocacy campaign recruited 400,000 champions of public broadcasting in the nick of time in 2011, and those 400,000 good people generated more than 500,000 emails and countless telephone calls to Capitol Hill expressing their support for our federal funding just when we needed them most.

By this time next year, I want this army to be a million strong. I want every one of these 400,000 soldiers to recruit at least one more advocate for public broadcasting in 2012, and for each of those to recruit yet another in 2013, and then we will have a force of two million ready to muster at a moment’s notice to protect our federal funding.

That’s an infantry that will get Washington’s attention – and the attention of any State capital where our funding is threatened -- and that’s the scale of support we’ll need to ensure our success in the challenging years ahead.

But it’s not enough. We need leaders for this army. We need a Leadership Council that marshals station and lay leadership in hundreds of communities, in every State, to provide the “grass-tops” advocacy so important to public broadcasting.

This Association launched the Leadership Council in 2008, and the Council now boasts a corps of community leaders in 27 States who have proven themselves extraordinarily successful in convincing the Powers That Be here in Washington to do right by public broadcasting.

These are people who not only love our industry and support our mission but who are closely connected to the political leadership of our country, at both the State and federal levels.

We need such leaders in all 50 States, and we need your help in recruiting them. As the APTS board now boasts Senator Bob Kerrey and Secretary Louis Sullivan, the Leadership Council needs people of stature from both major political parties in every State to help lead the fight for public broadcasting.

We’re more than halfway there. By this time next year, I hope we’ll have a 50-State Leadership Council to go with our million-strong grassroots army, and The Force will be with us as never before.

Even so, I look forward to the day when we don’t have to fight so hard just to do the right thing.

I look forward to the day when there will be a true, strong, broad bipartisan consensus in Washington and in the states that public broadcasting is not a political problem but a national treasure we should all be proud of.

It was my honor to be a guest of WETA at the White House last week for the latest in the series of “In Performance at the White House” concerts that have been a fixture of public television for years.

Last week’s concert brought together some of the great legends of the blues who transformed the stately East Room into a spirited celebration of a uniquely American art form.

Among the performers were B. B. King, Buddy Guy, Jeff Beck, my new best friend Mick Jagger, and an exciting new vocalist named Barack Obama, who wowed the audience with his rendition of “Sweet Home Chicago.”  That great concert will air on PBS tonight, and everybody, everywhere in America, can see it for free.

I was back at the White House the next day for a screening of Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s film on Prohibition with leaders of the National Endowment for the Humanities and law students from the Washington area, exploring all the Constitutional, legal and cultural issues arising from this extraordinary chapter in American history.

And on both days, I was struck by the fact none of this would have happened without public media.

Neither would the thoughtful and comprehensive look at the nation and the world that we get all day, every day from NPR, equipping us – no matter where we live or what we think – with the information we need to be conscientious citizens of the world’s greatest democracy.    

Neither would the PBS LearningMedia service that is converting the best of 40 years of public television programming – as well as the treasures of the Library of Congress, the National Archives, NASA, the National Science Foundation, and much more – into standards-based, curriculum-aligned digital learning objects that will engage and enlighten millions of elementary and secondary school students throughout the country, revolutionize teaching and learning in America, and make our students once again the most accomplished in the world.

Like the brave men and women of the Arab Spring, who used media to change their world, so do we hope to be media that mean something, that contribute something, that serve a cause greater than mere commercial gain.

I look forward to the day when everyone sees us as we see ourselves:  as a teacher of America’s children, a trainer of America’s workers, an alert system for America’s emergencies, preserver of the national memory, servant of American citizenship, and steward of American civilization.

These are the missions of public service media, and they are no more partisan in their nature than a public school, a public library or a public highway.

And compared with public broadcasting in the other great nations of the world, ours is the biggest bargain by far. While Japan spends $64 a citizen on its incomparable NHK, and Great Britain spends $83 a citizen on the legendary BBC, our government spends a grand total of $1.35 a citizen on public broadcasting every year.

Budgets matter. Deficits matter. Taxes matter. But I hope the day never comes when America is so bereft of fortune, so poor in spirit, that we begrudge this modest investment in media that matter.

We are not – and we must not be – a penurious people who in the end know the cost of everything and the value of nothing.

In this, as in so much, the American people are ahead of their leaders. Seventy percent of our fellow citizens, across the political spectrum, support federal funding of public broadcasting. Our news and public affairs programming is the most trusted in the nation. We are considered by the people who pay the bills the second best investment of federal funds, after national defense alone.

With their help, and in their name, we have come a long way from the dark days of last year. We have found friends in high places on both sides of the partisan aisle and both sides of Capitol Hill. We have been supported and sustained through our greatest crisis in two decades by a faithful and forceful President of the United States.

We have marshaled our own strength as never before, with air support from you when we needed it most, a grassroots army that overwhelmed the Capitol building when our prospects were bleakest, a wise and fully engaged board of directorswho have given us great counsel through these hard times, and a hardy band of 13 people here at APTS global headquarters who worked harder than I’ve ever seen 13 people work to preserve your funding and save our industry.

I sense success in this room. I feel confidence in this room. I see hundreds of people representing 23,000 resourceful colleagues and 170 million grateful viewers, listeners and learners in this country who think of public broadcasting as America at its best, and who are ready to do the work, fight the battles, invent the future, and support the cause of public service media in America.

I am proud to be in your company, honored to stand with you today and every day, “strong in will,” as Lord Tennyson said, “to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”   

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