- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 7, 2002

A group of Virginia PBS affiliates has asked the state to overhaul the formula it uses to fund public broadcasting, but two Falls Church television stations complain that the plan would strip $800,000 from their annual budgets and leave them crippled.
WNVT-TV (Channel 53) and WNVC-TV (Channel 56), which operate under the name MHz Networks, are two of a few publicly funded television stations in the nation that are not affiliated with the national Public Broadcasting Service.
The stations, based in Falls Church, carry a mix of locally produced public affairs, educational, cultural and international programs, such as "8101," a talk show geared toward black viewers, and "Hablemos de Salud," a Spanish-language medical-advice show.
The stations say they would not be able to afford such programs under a plan proposed by the Virginia Association of Public Television Stations, which represents the state's major PBS affiliates.
"This money pays for everything from personnel to electricity. It would be incredibly painful to lose it," said Ann Genetski, director of educational services for MHz Networks.
The stations embarked on a "Save MHz" campaign yesterday, urging viewers to call Gov. Mark R. Warner, a Democrat, to protest the proposal.
The state distributes about $3 million annually to public television stations for local programming through community-service grants. The complicated distribution formula allows some stations to receive more aid than others, depending on the region they serve, the number of transmitters and other criteria.
The association has recommended that the state evenly distribute the funding among the four nonprofit corporations that license the state's public stations. Ms. Genetski said the reconfigured formula would strip her stations of $800,000 annually.
MHz Networks has an annual budget of about $4 million and about 50 employees.
The state has slashed the budget for public broadcasting by more than 20 percent this year. The association proposed its plan to help officials determine how to implement the cuts, said Joseph Widoff, the group's chairman and president of WHRO-TV (Channel 15), the PBS affiliate in Hampton Roads, Va.
"We had no choice but to suggest that they take the bull by the horns," Mr. Widoff said.
The Virginia Public Broadcasting Board, which funds the public stations, might consider the association's proposal at a meeting next week, said Magda Ratajski, the panel's chairman.
The sluggish economy has already hit MHz Networks. Earlier in the fall, WNVT began signing off most nights at 6 p.m. to save money.
All public stations are struggling from state budget cuts, Mr. Widoff said. "We are not at all making judgments with regard to [MHz] programming. We are just trying to find the best way to use limited resources," he said.


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