The most popular PBS station in America is about to go dark.
Kevin Stitt, Republican Governor of Oklahoma, vetoed recently a bill which would have provided millions of dollars in funding to the Oklahoma Educational Television Authority (OETA), the state-wide PBS network, reaching more than 650,000 viewers each week. Stitt criticized the station's alleged LGBTQ-inclusive content, telling Fox News it was akin to 'indoctrination' and 'over-sexualization' of children.
In an interview with the right-wing channel this week, Stitt said that the decision did not align with Oklahoma values.
Stitt's decision to attack the homes of family-friendly programs like 'Sesame street,' Clifford the Big Red Dog', and Mister Rogers,' represents a new front that is rapidly expanding in the cultural wars. Republicans, including Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has been attacking Disney over the past year, claiming that the brand, which is meant to be neutral, is actually a 'creepy company' engaged in grooming children with radical gender ideologies. This attack has now spread to PBS.
A spokesperson from the public broadcaster defended their programming by saying that it offers 'curriculum based content' which has been used to educate and inspire children for generations in Oklahoma and throughout the country.
The threat of funding threatens Oklahoma families' access to local, free content that they rely on to help their children reach their fullest potential. PBS KIDS's fundamental goal is to support children in their learning and growth through the programming they know and love. The spokesperson stated that now is not the right time to remove this from children.
In recent months, while politicians' rhetoric can be empty or aimed solely at enticing supporters, the anti LGBTQ rhetoric of the GOP has led to real and actionable consequences. Stitt, DeSantis and other politicians are being encouraged by right-wing media to use state power to punish organizations that embrace diversity.
Oklahoma's station receives $6.3 from donors and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. However, the state government contributes $2.9 million. Stitt's decision to veto the bill will send the station on a new path and may force it to make difficult decisions.
OETA is not only the source of children's educational programming, it also has a significant civic role. The Oklahoma News Report is the only Oklahoma state news broadcast that reaches all counties in Oklahoma. It is also the network on which state authorities rely to distribute emergency alerts, such as those for severe weather, an occurrence that occurs frequently and can be dangerous in Tornado Alley. The network alone has sent out more than 200 alerts in the past year.
Carri Hicks of Oklahoma City is a Democrat State Senator who blasted Stitt for his decision. She said she was 'deeply dismayed' that Stitt had politicized an institution so important to generations in Oklahoma.
Hicks stated in a press release that he grew up in rural area where there was no cable or satellite TV, but he had access to high-quality educational material on PBS. Because of OETA I spent my after-school afternoons practicing reading and math. Our governor is trying to score political points by denying our children the opportunity to learn and to participate in this programming. It's a real shame and a disservice for the people of Oklahoma.
Bob Spinks is a former president and board member of the Friends of OETA, a non-profit organization. He also spoke against the governor’s decision.
Spinks, speaking to CNN, said that the loss of OETA would leave a huge gap in educational programming, support for public safety, and civic engagement, which hundreds of thousands depend on each week.
Spinks said, "I'm not sure how things will turn out if the veto doesn't get overridden." Spinks said that there would be a possible impact on the emergency alert system.
Spinks said, "We just don't understand this because we have never experienced it before."