NPR head defends government funding, calls claims of media bias a ‘perception issue’

Faced with the threat of losing funding from the federal government, National Public Radio (NPR) CEO Vivian Schiller defended the news outlet’s use of taxpayer money in a speech Monday, and brushed off criticism of bias as “perception.”

Calling government funding the “cornerstone of public media,” Schiller said NPR was “too critical to give up.”

“We rely on continued government funding,” Schiller said at the National Press Club in Washington DC. “Grants to stations for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting represent on average 10 percent of the public radio station economy…It is not the largest share of revenue, but it is a critical cornerstone of public media.”

NPR secures about two percent of its funding through grants from the CPB. The rest comes from viewer donations, corporate underwriters, philanthropists and dues from local member stations — some that are more than 50 percent government-funded — that pay into the network.

By Schiller’s own admission, public broadcasting is closer than ever to being forced to run on its own. House Republicans voted last month to strip funding  in their version of the continuing resolution, which is currently being debated in the Senate. NPR’s decision to fire longtime news analyst Juan Williams for comments made on Fox News about Muslims — a move Schiller said was handled “badly” —  renewed the calls among conservatives for defunding. And last week, two Republican senators introduced a bill to strip all government grants from news-gathering agencies.

Critics of NPR’s subsidies argue that the government should not play a role in funding news outlets, especially ones that cover it. But Schiller contended that it is just that — government funding — that helps keep NPR independent.

“The fact that we have four sources of revenue: Listeners, philanthropy, corporate, and government, helps ensure that public media is not beholden to any one source of revenue,” she said. “Indeed, it is through this diversity of funding that we are able to maintain our journalistic independence.”

Regarding accusations of liberal bias, which the network have fielded for years, Schiller said the networks merely had a “perception” issue, and not a problem with reporting.

“It comes with the territory,” she said. “It’s no question it’s a perception issue. It absolutely is a perception issue.”

She added that NPR was simply “misunderstood.”

If, however, Republicans do succeed in revoking the funding, don’t expect to see NPR running Budweiser ads anytime soon.

“We have no plans, and will not have any plans, to become a commercial enterprise,” she said. “It’s really part of a tacit pact that we have with our listeners that we are not for profit, non-commercial, independent news and information.”

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