The Senate Republican leading the campaign to privatize public broadcasting said Sunday that several communications companies, including Bell Atlantic, are interested in buying public television stations.
Sen. Larry Pressler of South Dakota also complained on CBS’ “Face the Nation” that the Corporation for Public Broadcasting “is running a nasty nationwide campaign against Republicans, saying that we are trying to kill Big Bird,” the popular character on Sesame Street.
Pressler, chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee that controls CPB’s budget, contends that the corporation’s $285 million budget this year - 14 percent of the public broadcasting industry’s total income - could be cut without affecting quality television programming.
He said he had met with the heads of several telecommunications companies, including the Philadelphiabased Bell Atlantic Corporation, and they expressed interest in buying and running the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
“It could be done with a provision that they would continue children’s programming and rural broadcasting. They could do this without spending any federal money,” Pressler said.
“Pressler tipped the Republican hand that what this is about is Republicans cutting deals with huge communications companies that need television outlets to acquire and cannibalize public TV,” said one source within public television. “That’s the bottom line.”
A spokeswoman for Bell Atlantic, Shannon Fioravanti, called the purchase of CPB affiliates a “very preliminary idea.”
She said that if Congress decides to privative public broadcasting, Bell Atlantic would be interested in partnership agreements or buyouts of stations within the seven midAtlantic states it serves, under a pledge that it would continue highquality educational and rural programming.
CPB chief executive officer Richard Carlson, appearing with Pressler on CBS, predicted public broadcasting would survive a cutoff of federal funds, but said that many smaller rural stations “will undoubtedly crash and burn.”