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Gov. Stitt axes PBS funding over shows with LGBTQ+ content

OETA's headquarters in the Tulsa region, located within the OSU-Tulsa campus. April 2023. (KTUL/Gelfand)
OETA's headquarters in the Tulsa region, located within the OSU-Tulsa campus. April 2023. (KTUL/Gelfand)
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Governor Kevin Stitt receives questions after denying OETA funding.

“OETA is the most-watched PBS station in the country,” Friends of OETA board member Ken Busby asserted. “Over 650,000 viewers a week are watching PBS in Oklahoma.”

Those impressive numbers haven’t fazed Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt, who said the Oklahoma Educational Television Authority should lose its funding because its programming features the LGBT+ community.

H.B. 2820 was one of more than 20 bills vetoed by the governor late Wednesday evening. It would have secured OETA’s funding through 2026 if signed into law.

“That, to me, is an outdated system,” Stitt said during a press conference Friday. “It may have had its place in 1957. Why are we paying taxpayer dollars to prop up OETA?”

But OETA, which broadcasts PBS throughout Oklahoma, is still plenty popular with parents.

“Some people that don’t have kids may not realize how well they’ve done,” one Tulsan parent of two said. “It’d be sad to see them go.”

“It would suck,” one parent said as their partner nodded.

Governor Stitt disagrees.

“I don’t think Oklahomans want to use their tax dollars to indoctrinate kids,” Stitt told reporters. “And some of the stuff that they’re showing, it just overly sexualizes our kids. There’s elevating LGBTQIA2S+ voices.”

“I haven’t noticed that at all,” one parent countered.

Busby not only disagrees with the governor’s assertion, but said PBS is an invaluable source of artistic, cultural, and historical programming that wouldn’t find a home on other networks.

“No civilization since the Norman Conquest in 1066 has survived that did not support arts and culture,” he said. “They’re all gone. Civilization is about its culture, its history, and its arts.”

Busby proposed a solution if the governor doesn’t like what he sees.

“I have a device called a remote control,” he said, “and I can turn it off. I can change the channel. I can go read a book. I can go do something else. I can go play frisbee.”

Busby explained that the invisible hand of the free market holds a remote control.

“If people aren’t watching something and those ratings go down, you don’t see those programs anymore,” he said. “The public does sift what is on and available.”

But OETA does more than provide TV shows.

“Tornado warnings, Amber Alerts, those kinds of things,” Busby explained. “They’re from our broadcast towers, which are scattered across the state.”

The governor’s veto means Oklahoma is on course to lose its emergency alert system.

“I don’t think that has anything to do with our public safety,” Stitt said when asked about this concern. “And I’m not sure how much OETA is helping public safety.”

Many legislators, like State Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat, aren’t in step with the governor on this issue.

“I was told the towers were critically important for DPS and others,” he said.

“I know the water cooler talk is very much that [Legislators are] in favor of supporting [the bill], and they’ll find a way to reintroduce it to make sure that it continues,” Busby said.

Busby added OETA will not be intimidated into changing its programming.

“We’re constantly tweaking based on feedback,” he said, “but not because one person or one body says, ‘Hey, we think you should look at the world differently.’ We’re not doing it that way. We’re doing it based on those we serve.”

If H.B. 2820 is reintroduced, it would take support from two-thirds of the state legislature to pass. Otherwise, the money will run out on July 1st.


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