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For the week of February 21 through 27, 2001

Legislator backs privatization of IPTV


By GREG STAHL
Express Staff Writer

A state senator who has pushed a debate over continued public funding of Idaho Public Television (IPTV) said in Ketchum last week he probably will not submit a bill on the subject this legislative session. He will, however, continue to promote privatization.

"I want public television to succeed, but I donít want tax dollars put into competition" against Idahoís commercial television stations, said Sen. Mel Richardson, R-Idaho Falls, in an interview at River Run Lodge on Thursday night.

Sen. Mel Richardson, R-Idaho Falls

Richardson visited the Sun Valley area last week to welcome a team of Ukrainian biathletes to Idaho for a winter training trip. He made his comments regarding privatization in a brief interview at the reception.

He said he continues to support privatization despite public comments and a state Board of Education vote opposing the idea.

"Itís a public that doesnít understand the issue," he said. "We havenít done the job of selling (the benefits of privatization)."

At a statewide public hearing two weeks ago, 51 Idaho residents testified about the future of IPTV. All but two urged the Legislature to allow IPTV to remain as it is. The state Board of Education also received written comments by mail, e-mail and fax. Of the 867 responses, 807 opposed privatization, 31 favored it, and 29 expressed support for IPTV in general.

The Board of Education voted 5 to 2 Thursday against privatization. It had asked for, and reviewed, an $80,000 study of privatization after some of Idahoís conservative lawmakers spoke out for privatization and the Idaho Republican Party passed a platform resolution supporting the idea.

The study concluded that IPTV probably could not survive without at least some state funding.

Public TV licenses canít be used for commercial broadcasting. Of four states that have converted their systems to private, nonprofit systems in the past decade, three still get 10 to 20 percent of their funding from the state, according to the study, and the fourth is looking for funding.

Still, Richardson pointed to the four states as indicators that IPTV could be privatized successfully. Under Richardsonís plan, the state would continue to provide limited funding by buying back "services we need."

Richardson didnít specify the services the state might need.

IPTV gets about 28 percent of its funding from the state, with about 57 percent of its budget coming from private donations.

Members of the Legislature, including the chairmen of the House and Senate education committees, asked the Board of Education to take a position on the privatization issue. The Senate Education Committee had voted unanimously against privatization, while the House committee was awaiting the boardís action.

Though Richardson has advocated privatization for years, the issue entered the limelight in 1999 when IPTV aired a program called "Itís Elementary," a one-hour documentary on how schools in several states deal with homosexual issues.

Last June, IPTV aired another program called "Our House," a one-hour documentary about children with gay and lesbian parents.

The airing of these two programs, and the public debate that surrounded them, resulted in the state Republican Party passing its platform resolution that called for the privatizing of Idaho Public Television.

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