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UA making deep funding cuts to public broadcasting in Tucson

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TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) -

The trickle-down effect of state budget cuts could affect what you see on TV and listen to on the radio.

They are southern Arizona's home for PBS's Sesame Street, Downton Abbey and Antiques Roadshow, along with locally-produced Arizona Illustrated.

On NPR there are the programs Marketplace and All Things Considered, plus, locally-produced programs such as Arizona Spotlight.

Arizona Public Media (AZPM) operates KUAT TV and KUAZ radio on the University of Arizona campus with an annual budget of $11.7 million.

The UA provides about a quarter of that.

The university has announced it's cutting its cash contribution by two million dollars over the next five years.

The cash contribution to AZPM eventually will drop from the current $2.6 million a year, to $600,000 a year.

It's a budget decision that has supporters of the public TV and radio stations using words like "outrage" and "betrayal."

The UA administration says cuts to AZPM are necessary to deal with budget issues.

The university has endured nearly $200 million in state funding cuts in the past seven or so years.

"We need to protect the academic mission, the scholarship and the research. So auxiliary enterprises, including AZPM, are being asked to pick up more of the overhead," says UA spokesperson Chris Sigurdson.

Some AZPM supporters in the community are highly critical of UA President Ann Weaver Hart and this funding cut.

Supporters we talked with spoke of the funding reduction as an inappropriate decision that will damage AZPM's radio and television stations that consistently claim some of the highest local viewer and listener numbers in the country.

They say they understand budget reductions may be necessary, but that the AZPM budget is being slashed without enough discussion on where less damaging cuts can be made, and without thought as to the value of the stations to the university and to the Tucson and southern Arizona community.

"It seems quite short-sighted that the University of Arizona would cut off its main communication tool to the community at a time when they need our support the most," says former AZPM Community Advisory Board Member Peter Bramley. "It just doesn't seem to be the wise choice to make to cut off funding to the organization that they're current using to tell their story to our community."

AZPM has grown its stations over the years with the help of community donations, underwriting and support from the university.

Supporters in the community fear the budget cuts will mean all that investment will be lost.

"This is a very significant budget cut and incredibly significant over the next four or five years. It really, I believe, could threaten the existence of public radio and television in this region," says former AZPM Community Advisory Board Member Karen Christensen.

The UA's Sigurdson says the university doesn't see that happening.

He says it will continue to provide about two million dollars a year in in-kind support, such as for utilities, in addition to the diminished amount of cash support.

"AZPM is not going away. This is an 11-and-a-half million dollar endeavor, per year. We're looking at cutting 4% this year and then 4% for each of the next four years, and asking them to go out to the community and the viewers to replace that support," Sigurdson says.

The first $400,000 funding cut to AZPM is set to take place two weeks from today, July 1.

Community supporters say they hope the university reconsiders its decision, and looks elsewhere to save money.

Some of them recommend cuts to UA administration instead.

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