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Public TV, radio stations face probe

Use of US funds under scrutiny

WASHINGTON -- The Corporation for Public Broadcasting will investigate public television and radio stations, including WGBH, that urged viewers and listeners to lobby Congress to restore funding cuts, the corporation's top investigator said.

Kenneth Konz, inspector general for the nonprofit agency that oversees federal funding of public broadcasters, said he will open an inquiry into stations' spending at the request of Republican lawmakers.

''If stations keep track of what they spend their federal money on, it shouldn't be hard to find out if they are using it to lobby," Konz said in a telephone interview. ''If not, we'll have to see what we can find out."

The corporation gives taxpayers' money to public TV and radio stations, the Public Broadcasting Service, and National Public Radio to fund a portion of their operations. Federal law prohibits broadcasters from using this money to lobby Congress.

Eighteen Republican lawmakers, led by Representative Ginny Brown-Waite of Florida, asked Konz in August to investigate whether the broadcasters were misusing federal funds in lobbying Congress and making viewer and listener appeals. Konz's statement is the first public confirmation that he will investigate the matter.

Konz said he will interview PBS and NPR officials and visit a number of local stations. He plans to ask accountants there to detail how much federal money they receive and how they spend it. In some cases, federal funds account for 4 or 5 percent of a station's budget, he said.

''This is old-fashioned political intimidation," said John Lawson, president of the Association of Public Television Stations, which represents local public TV stations. ''The congressmen that requested this want to shut us up."

Public TV stations segregate their federal money to make sure it is not used on lobbying, Lawson said. These stations also have First Amendment protections allowing them to urge viewers to lobby Congress, he said.

Globe staffer Joanna Weiss in Boston contributed to this report.

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