July was an anxious month for many state-funded (or partially state-funded) agencies, as leaders in the Legislature hashed out a final budget. That was true for one of the most high-profile: UNC-TV, with four million viewers statewide.
First, a little history: After many years of enthusiastic support from mostly Democratic lawmakers, UNC-TV faced the very real possibility of severe cuts two years ago, when Republicans took over the Legislature. Leaders threatened to cut all funding and asked UNC-TV to go through a "continuation review" to justify why they should continue to receive recurring state funding. The station even announced that one of its signature programs, Legislative Week in Review, would have to be canceled if it lost state funding. In the end, UNC-TV funding made it into the final 2011 state budget, although at a lower level: instead of about $12 million per year, the network received around $9 million.
It should also be noted that state-supported public media has had an even tougher fate in other states, most notably Florida.
So it was understandable that fans of Sesame Street, the Wild Kratts, Frontline, Ken Burns, North Carolina Weekend, and all of UNC-TV’s other offerings were concerned during the tense horse-trading that went on in June and July between budget writers.
And then, for those of us who read the budget, it was confusing: UNC TV was nowhere to be found in the final budget (pdf) – not among the cuts or the funded entities.
Turns out, it was hidden.
Steve Volstad, the Director of Marketing and Communications for UNC-TV, explained in an email:
“It doesn't show up as a line item because it is incorporated into the budget of the UNC General Administration,” he said. “We have always been part of General Administration, so that doesn't indicate any kind of change. We're just not shown as a separate line item this time.”
One last bit of good news for UNC-TV fans: the $9.1 million budget allocation is listed as “recurring” – meaning it should remain in future budgets.
Note: The General Assembly is not UNC-TV’s only source of funding. Other funds come from viewer support, the federal Corporation for Public Broadcasting and corporate underwriting.
Another Note: WUNC Radio, another public media entity of some renown, is not affiliated with UNC-TV and does not receive funding from the General Assembly. We are a licensee of UNC-Chapel Hill; UNC-TV is a part of the UNC General Administration.