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Local PBS Stations Feel Targeted

Commonwealth Public Broadcasting owns six regional public television stations and one public radio station — including Richmond's WCVE PBS-TV, WCVW PBS-TV and WCVE 88.9-FM.

Commonwealth claims that their stations are being targeted by a quasi-coalition of less-successful public TV stations in Virginia, which argue that they should take less of a hit from state budget cuts because they have less money.

"They've hatched a plan in which we could lose half our state funding," says Sarah Bartenstein, spokeswoman for Commonwealth Public Broadcasting.

The stations she's referring to are WHRO in Norfolk, WVPT in Harrisonburg, WBRA in Roanoke, and WETA in Arlington. Last week, those stations presented a proposal to the Virginia Public Broadcasting Board to change the way state funds earmarked for public television are distributed among stations.

The Virginia Public Broadcasting Board, made up of members appointed by the governor, is responsible for allocating state funds, setting policy and ensuring that all regions of the state benefit from public broadcasting stations.

At the board meeting, the association of stations outside Richmond presented a plan that calls for abandoning the current formula used to determine how much state money each station gets in favor of a flat grant to each parent company.

Barteinstein says that under such a plan, a company that owns more stations would take a bigger hit than a company that owns fewer, or individual stations.

"The other stations resent us because they think we're big, powerful and wealthy," Bartenstein says. Not so, she contends. As she puts it, they run their operations like a business, knowing government funds may not last forever. Their endowment, estimated at about $11 million, she says, is reserved for capital expenditures, and not annual programming and associated costs.

Bartenstein says the plan presented by the other local stations would cause Commonwealth to take an $875,000 hit.

A representative for the other stations' lobbying group could not be reached for comment.

Since hearing the plan, the state board has called for all the stations to work with an outside mediator to reach an agreement in 30 days. But if the mediator recommends the plan, it could be adopted by the board in December.

If that happens, says Bartenstein, "We're going to have to cut back on the services we provide." Among them: programs for public schools, local programming, capital bureau services and hours of broadcast. — Brandon Walters

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