Thursday, March 17, 2011

Peering into the Mouth of the Congressional Cannon

This is a continuation of the yesterday's post about H.R. 1076, the bill to kill NPR. Interestingly enough, the Republicans who rushed this to the floor broke one of their own promises (and on purpose, I suspect). Remember how they vowed that they would make the text of every bill public for three business days to allow public scrutiny and feedback? Why the rush, boys? I usually only skirt the rules if I know I'm doing something sketchy.

Despite not being available for public scrutiny for 72 hours, the text was finally posted today I had a chance to look at the actual bill and it's even stranger than I first thought. Here's the meat of it:
To prohibit Federal funding of National Public Radio and the use of Federal funds to acquire radio content

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled:


- No Federal funds may be made
(1) to an organization that is incorporated as of the date of the enactment of this Act for each of the purposes described in subsection (c), or to any successor organization

(2) for payment of dues to an organization described in paragraph (1); or(3) for the acquisition of radio programs (including programs to be distributed or disseminated over the Internet) by or for the use of a radio broadcast station that is a public broadcast station (as defined in section 397(6) of the Communications Act)

- Paragraphs (2) and (3) of subsection (a) shall not be construed to prohibit the making available of Federal funds to any entity, including an entity that engages in the payment described in such paragraph (2) or the acquisition described in such paragraph (3), for purposes other than such payment or acquisition

(2) RADIO CONTENT ACQUISITION BY BROADCASTING BOARD OF GOVERNORS OR DEFENSE MEDIA ACTIVITY- Subsection (a)(3) shall not be construed to apply to the acquisition of radio programs by the Broadcasting Board of Governors or the Defense Media Activity.
OK, so they plugged the Internet loophole I mentioned yesterday. But what if NPR switched to straight video/TV production? Not covered. Now the bill further defines what funds can't be used for, and do so by basically paraphrasing NPR's articles of incorporation! (Just so there's no confusion).

Now some analysists think that this bill specifically targets NPR while allowing funding to go to the other providers like PRI and APM. i think the reasoning is that the list of disallowed funding purposes "for each of the purposes described in subsection (c)." That could mean only organizations who do all of the proscribed activities, not just a few. But I'm not so sure. What if it's interpreted as "any?"

The disallowed activities, for example, include:
"To establish and maintain one or more service or services for the production, duplication, promotion and circulation of radio programs on tape, cassettes, records or any other means or mechanism suitable for noncommercial educational trnasmission and broadcast thereof."

That pretty much defines the activity of every syndicator and producer both large and small.

And what about this disallowed purpose for funding?
"To lease, purchase, acquire and own, to order, have, use and controct for, and to otherwise obtain, arrange for and provide technical equipment and facilities for the production, recording and distribution of radio programs for broadcast over noncommerical educational radio stations, networks and systems."

Well, parts of that cover every station in the system. So if Federal funding can't be used for program creation or acquisition, or equipment maintenance/upgrades, I guess that leaves only salaries. Does that mean public radio employees will be able to make a living wage thanks to an act of Congress?

Now there's an unintended consequence!

BTW - Section B, subsection 2 exempts Voice of America and military broadcast service from this ban. So does that mean VOA and the DoD would become NPR's biggest customers? Just wondering...

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