PBS loses a 4th station; public television local news commitment questioned

WASHINGTON — The Public Broadcasting System has been abandoned by a fourth station, WIPR-TV in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

As previously reported, KCET-TV in Los Angeles dropped its PBS programming in January of this year. Two public television stations in Florida followed suit in early July.

WIPR canceled its PBS affiliation after an unsuccessful year-long negotiation over the amount the station would pay for programming, according to an article in Current magazine. That was exactly the same pattern as in Los Angeles, according to KCET President and General Manager Al Jerome in an interview late last week with CCLP.

In addition to the pricing disputes, PBS refused to make its Spanish-language children’s programs available to WIPR. “We spoke to PBS about this, but they couldn’t help us,” said Pedro Rua, executive vice president of WIPR, in the Current interview.

In Daytona Beach, WDSC-TV canceled its PBS programs on July 1 after losing over $300,000 in state funding, according to the Daytona Beach News-Journal. WDSC-TV will continue to broadcast public television programs, but popular PBS programs, such as Sesame Street and the NewsHour will no longer be seen – the same programming strategy that KCET and WIPR are using.

However, the Orlando public television station plans to eventually drop all public television programs – not just PBS – to switch to full-time religious programming format.

In Puerto Rico, WIPR-TV already produces seven hours a day of local programming, along with a 24-hour all-news television service, four other television channels, and three radio stations. Now with the ties to PBS severed, WIPR programs may be offered to stations in the US mainland according to the Current article.

WIPR-TV’s local news and program service is the exception in public television programming, as reported at length in a widely discussed article in the current issue of the Columbia Journalism Review.

Unlike public radio, which has made news and information a foundation of national and local programming, most public television stations present no local news or public affairs: 68% of public television stations provide zero local news, according to the benchmark report released by the Federal Communications Commission in June.

Among the listed major exceptions in public television are KCET in Los Angeles and WIPR-TV in San Juan – both of which have canceled PBS this year.

In contrast to public stations, commercial television stations are broadcasting an all-time record amount of local news: Stations produced an average of 5.3 hours of local news last year, up 18 minutes from the year before, according to the annual survey by the Radio Television Digital News Association and Hofstra University. Many are adding local newscasts beginning at 4:30 or 5:00 a.m.

And unlike public television stations facing budget cuts, commercial television stations reported that this year they will add even more newscasts — and hire more journalists.