BOISE — Idaho House members criticized the programming on Idaho Public Television on Thursday before finally approving the budget for the TV system for next year on a 36-30 vote.
Rep. Dorothy Moon, R-Stanley, said when she was on the treadmill the previous evening, she watched eight episodes of “Idaho Reports,” and she didn’t like the way the Legislature was portrayed in the program.
“I don’t think you should fund public television,” Moon told the House.
She said she believed lawmakers were portrayed in a way to “make it look like we’re not taking our jobs seriously, just the terminology that’s used,” and that the show wasn’t giving legislators “a fair shake.”
Rep. Scott Syme, R-Caldwell, a member of the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, which wrote the budget bill, responded, “I would remind the body that Public Television funds our emergency broadcast network across the state, so if you want to maintain that emergency broadcast network, and they tie into our National Guard, for any emergency situations that happen across the state, I would suggest a ‘yes’ vote.”
The budget bill written by JFAC actually cuts the state general funds going to Idaho Public Television next year by 8.4% from this year’s level, to $2.7 million; in total funds, including grants and viewer donations, the budget comes to $8.8 million, down 8.5% from this year.
Rep. Tammy Nichols, R-Middleton, told the House she believes children’s programs like “Clifford the Big Red Dog” are “teaching our kids alternate lifestyles” that are “not conducive with many of our desires and our beliefs and our values.”
“For instance, Clifford the Big Red Dog is now showing a lesbian couple that is on the show,” she said. “Discussions of such controversial topics I believe should be left up to parents.”
Nichols said she believes that’s something “that the taxpayers should not be responsible for; if people want to give their own money, that’s one thing, but I don’t believe that as a whole that we should be promoting these agendas.”
Rep. Britt Raybould, R-Rexburg, the Senate sponsor of the budget bill, HB 579, noted that the state taxpayer funds in the budget pay for “the infrastructure, the physical tower, the network systems.” She explained, “Programming dollars come out of dedicated funds which are raised separately from what we are paying out of the general fund dollars,” and pointed to the current spring fund drive that Idaho PTV is running on-air as an example of that.
Rep. Melissa Wintrow, D-Boise, said she believes the proposed budget for IPTV for next year is “a pretty lean budget” and said, “They do an exceptional job for our state.”
“I’m a little troubled by the comments on the floor about lesbian couples and Clifford the Big Red Dog,” Wintrow said. “That’s a fact of life, that’s not an agenda. That’s a fact of life. There are lesbian and gay marriages. And there are plenty of people in my district that appreciate that, and that they don’t feel erased, and that they see themselves represented in mainstream culture.”
She added, “There’s plenty of stuff on TV I don’t like — I turn the channel. But what are we going to do, censor the whole FCC? … We wouldn’t even have a Super Bowl if we did that.”
Rep. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, told the House, “I’d like to go a little further and say I believe our public television is becoming a political bias machine, and I truly think that $8 million is a very large budget.”
She reminded House members of a public records request last year from former IPTV reporter Seth Ogilvie that lawmakers considered intrusive, regarding apps that lawmakers use to communicate.
“So obviously we’re giving them enough money that they’re able to do a records request,” she said. “I think they have plenty of money. And I think if this budget fails, maybe they could take another look and maybe cut back a little bit more, so they don’t have all this extra time and money on their hands to be studying other government workers. I think a leaner budget, maybe they could stop with their biases and they could maybe focus on the emergency system that they want to work on and just providing decent TV.”
Raybould, in her closing debate, said, “I would … caution this body to be careful about being advocates for particular language that we see on any particular news outlet. I understand the frustration with being misrepresented. … But I would hope that the response of this body would not be to go in the opposite direction to imply that we are for censorship or ensuring that we will only be supportive of those things that we stand in full support of, in terms of principle or position. We are a body that I believe is open-minded enough to hear the thoughts of others.”
The budget bill heads to the Senate; to become law, it needs passage there plus the governor’s signature.