Malad residents fighting public TV cuts

John O''Connell
February 2, 2010
Idaho State Journal

MALAD — A Malad woman is seeking to organize opposition to state cuts proposed by Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter that would terminate public television broadcasts to rural Idaho communities.

Sharlene Mason said for many in her community, public television is the only televised source of information about the Idaho State Legislature. She fears cuts to public television would leave several people in rural Idaho in the dark about state matters.

"I wrote to the governor yesterday that maybe you want to suggest we at this end of the state want to annex to Utah because basically that's what news we're getting. That's who's telling us what to think and what to consider on everything from politics on state issues," Mason said.

Under Otter's proposed public television cuts, state funding would be phased out over four years, starting in July. Public television officials anticipate 41 of 42 translators that rebroadcast signals into smaller communities would be allowed to deteriorate until they're not functional with no funding to make repairs. The Pocatello public television studio, KISU, as well as KUID in Moscow and the studio located in the Joe R. Williams building in Boise would likely be closed, said Ron Pisaneschi, director of content for Idaho Public Television. The Boise studio provides live coverage of the Legislature.

Pisaneschi noted the country is divided into television markets; communities are assigned a market and receive network television from their primary stations. In Idaho communities assigned to markets in other states - Malad for example - cable and satellite customers don't get Idaho news, with the exception of public television.

"If they lose public television, they aren't going to have the option of the legislative coverage we do," Pisaneschi said.

Pisaneschi said public television has four channels and "general audience numbers are holding up."

Programs about the Legislature aren't as popular among viewers as programs such as "Antiques Road Show." Pisaneschi views the legislative coverage as a public service and believes such programming couldn't be supported by private donations.

"Our audience for legislative channels is not enormous. We provide this as a service," he said. "That's our mission. In some ways, that's part of our dilemma. That's what the state funds in large part allow to make happen."

Mason is among those viewers who appreciate the service public television offers with its legislative programs.

"It's imperative that we know what's going on in the People's House, and this is the only way of getting it," said Mason, who purchased two memberships in public television to show her support. "How are (voters) going to vote intelligently if they don't get the issues? You don't have citizens who are willing to help and willing to make sacrifices unless you keep them informed."

Pisaneschi said the numbers have been run, and there's simply no way to operate without the state funding. He understands that all government services will be asked to take cuts given the state's revenue shortfall. He just [doesn't] understand why public television's cut should be 100 percent.

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