Even as public television and radio stations across Florida work furiously to cope with the recent veto of nearly $4.8 million in state funding, there is one public broadcaster that will see its state support increased.
WFSU in Tallahassee will receive $2.8 million that Gov. Rick Scott left untouched in next year's budget, specifically funding TV and radio projects often focused on the workings of state government.
The cash includes $1.8 million for the Florida Channel, a TV outlet based in the state Capitol that features live, unedited coverage of the governor and Cabinet, Legislature and Supreme Court. There's another $340,862 provided for closed captioning of the channel.
WFSU also gets $497,522 for "statewide government and cultural affairs programming," which includes funding for the 30-year-old Florida Crossroads documentary series and the Florida Public Radio Network — a service to all public radio stations in the state that provides "in-depth coverage of the Florida Legislature, state government and issues that affect the state."
Along with $162,750 provided for satellite uplink equipment, WFSU will receive a hike for these projects of more than $500,000 from last year's budget levels.
According to the Orlando Sentinel, the governor received more than 3,300 e-mails urging him not to veto funding for public broadcasting at all. But a spokesman for the governor said Scott sees the issue differently.
"Florida Channel provides a basic, core government function that other public broadcasters do not," noted Lane Wright, Scott's press secretary.
At the statewide alliance of public broadcasters, the Florida Public Broadcasting Service, executive director Janyth Righter fears the governor's office has misjudged the relationship of affiliate stations to the Florida Channel and Florida Public Radio Network.
"Without public radio and television stations, (these services) wouldn't get statewide distribution," Righter said, noting that the state has provided funding to public broadcasters for 38 years.
"We're the people who developed the Florida Channel and … devote a lot of time to very similar public affairs programming in local communities across Florida," she added. "This tells me we need to do a better job communicating how all this works."
Advocates brush aside criticisms that the Tallahassee channels provide lawmakers an uncritical forum, calling the outlets an essential service for residents across the state.
"The Florida Channel is very much like the C-SPAN of Tallahassee (government)," said Patrick Keating, general manager of WFSU-TV, adding that the money provided by the state cannot be used to fund any other programs. WFSU also lost more than $300,000 in state funding for its general budget from Scott's veto.
"When we created (the Florida Channel), we envisioned a camera of record, an observer in the room," Keating said. "We assume our audiences are pretty smart, and by watching, they can make their own decisions about what's going on."
At WLRN radio and TV in Miami, however, general manager John LaBonia is dropping use of the Florida Public Radio Network, in part to protest the governor's decision to fund that project while denying money to other public broadcasting entities. Instead, the radio station hopes to get reports on state government by joining the combined bureau in Tallahassee created by the St. Petersburg Times and Miami Herald.
"The governor zeroed out public broadcasting because he's calling it a special interest," LaBonia said. "When you single out one station and give to it but nobody else, that's the definition of a special interest."
The news comes at a tough time for public broadcasters across the country, caught between calls to cut or eliminate state and federal funding even as the ongoing recession makes soliciting memberships and corporate donations more difficult.
In Orlando, public broadcasters cut a last-minute deal to air PBS programs on WUCF-TV after officials at primary affiliate WMFE-TV decided to sell the station to a religious broadcasting company.
In Tampa, officials at onetime rivals WEDU-Ch. 3 and WUSF-Ch. 16 say they are exploring ways to work together — such as creating a master control facility for dealing with broadcasts by all PBS stations in the state — as a means of saving money and allowing both outlets to co-exist.
The governor's vetoes mean a loss of $1 million in grants for local public radio and TV stations, including more than $500,000 to WUSF radio and TV, $435,000 to WEDU and $62,000 to community radio station WMNF-FM.