Public Broadcasting Act of 1967

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Public Broadcasting Act of 1967

Corey Ditslear

Excerpt from the Public Broadcasting Act

The Congress hereby finds and declares that ... it is in the public interest to encourage the growth and development of public radio and television broadcasting, including the use of such media for instructional, educational, and cultural purposes; ... public television and radio stations and public telecommunications services constitute valuable local community resources for utilizing electronic media to address national concerns and solve local problems through community programs and out-reach programs; ... a private corporation should be created to facilitate the development of public telecommunications and to afford maximum protection from extraneous interference and control.

With the growth in commercial radio and television throughout the 1950s and early 1960s, arts and education programming was being largely ignored by the major networks and radio broadcasters in favor of entertainment programming designed to lure advertisers. Locally run nonprofit television and radio stations attempted to fill the gap, but their smaller budgets made it difficult for them to produce the high-tech programming the public was coming to expect. In 1965 the Carnegie Corporation of New York, a nonprofit foundation, created a commission to study the problem and assist a legislative lobbying effort to provide public funding for what the commission dubbed public broadcasting. The commission's report, combined with efforts by the Ford Foundation and locally owned educational broadcasting stations around the country, led to the Public Broadcasting Act (P.L. 90-129, 81 Stat. 365), signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson on November 7, 1967, after efforts to convince the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to use profits from nonprofit communications satellite systems were unsuccessful.

The act created the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) which was charged with using federal funds to help promote programming that involves creative risks the networks are unwilling to take, and to provide educational and informative materials targeted primarily for audiences underrepresented in mainstream broadcasting, like children and minorities. In order to fulfill its mission, the CPB formed the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) in 1969 and National Public Radio (NPR) in 1970.

The CPB does not produce or distribute any radio and television programs, for that job remains with PBS and NPR and the locally operated PBS and NPR stations around the country. The CPB receives an annual appropriation from Congress that equals 12 percent of the annual revenues of public broadcasting. This money is used to help support privately owned PBS and NPR stations that receive a majority of their funds from a combination of state and local tax dollars; donations by private business; individual memberships of listeners and viewers; and operating budgets supplied by the state colleges and universities that run almost half of the approximately 1,100 public television and radio stations.

Many of today's adults have grown up on the product of public broadcasting. Without PBS and NPR, such shows as Sesame Street, Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, The McNeil/Lehrer Report, Cosmos, Great Performances, A Prairie Home Companion, and All Things Considered would not have been able to help educate America's children and information-hungry adults.

Federal funding of public broadcasting has not produced much controversy since its inception in 1967. However, the financial problems of NPR during the late 1980s, combined with the growth of cable television where arts, education, and news programming had been successfully commercialized, created a growing push to eliminate public funding of public broadcasting. This effort culminated in 1994 with the House of Representatives' new Republican majority's failed attempt to eliminate all funding for the CPB. With tight budgets and alternate sources of educational and informative programming, funding for the CPB will likely remain a focus of debate. But with at least three generations of Americans having grown up on Sesame Street, it would be difficult for any politician to stop paying for Big Bird and all of the other public broadcasting stalwarts.

See also: Communications Act of 1934.


Gibson, George H. Public Broadcasting: The Role of the Federal Government, 19121976. New York: Praeger, 1977.

Raboy, Marc, ed. Public Broadcasting for the Twenty-First Century. Luton, Bedfordshire, U.K.: University of Luton Press, 1995.


Corporation for Public Broadcasting. July 2003. <>.