Tipped over: State's public broadcaster now doing less with less

For many state agencies, the first rounds of budget cuts over the past two years could be managed without greatly affecting key programs and services for the public. But as funding cuts go deeper and last longer, often a tipping point is reached where agencies are no longer able to simply tighten their belts but must abandon core aspects of their mission.

The state’s public television network, OETA, which plays a distinct role in covering public affairs and chronicling the lives of Oklahoma communities, has apparently reached such a tipping point. According to a recent article in the Journal Record (subscription only), the network will not be renewing the contracts of the studio staff of the Oklahoma News Report – anchors Gerry Bonds and George Tomek and meteorologist Ross Dixon –  for the upcoming year. All three were contract employees paid for by donations to the OETA Foundation. While the nightly news broadcast will continue to air, staffing reductions, increased workloads, and funding cuts will mean the end of new episodes of several locally-produced programs – Tulsa Times, Oklahoma City Metro and State of Creativity – that shed a spotlight on notable Oklahomans and current affairs. In addition, the agency has enacted a strict hiring freeze and will no longer offer weather broadcasts.

Over the past two years, state appropriations for OETA have been cut by 19.1 percent, from $5.2 million in FY ’09 (excluding one-time capital funding) to $4.2 million for next year. As we showed in our FY ’11 Budget Highlights, half of all appropriated agencies have seen state funding cut by 15 percent or more during this period. With one-fifth of this year’s budget being funded with non-recurring revenues, the chances for any quick or substantial improvement in the budget outlook for OETA or most any other agency are slim.

Despite the cuts, OETA will continue to operate, but with fewer staff shouldering greater workloads and responsibilities, and with fewer programs that are able to tell of the lives and deeds of the ordinary and extraordinary Oklahomans who make up the fabric of this state. Their loss of funding is our loss as well.


Former Executive Director David Blatt joined OK Policy in 2008 and served as its Executive Director from 2010 to 2019. He previously served as Director of Public Policy for Community Action Project of Tulsa County and as a budget analyst for the Oklahoma State Senate. He has a Ph.D. in political science from Cornell University and a B.A. from the University of Alberta. David has been selected as Political Scientist of the Year by the Oklahoma Political Science Association, Local Social Justice Champion by the Dan Allen Center for Social Justice, and Public Citizen of the Year by the National Association of Social Workers.

2 thoughts on “Tipped over: State's public broadcaster now doing less with less

  1. The cuts determined by the OETA management include getting rid of Legislative Week in Review and The People’s Business, as well as the cuts to the Oklahoma News Hour.

    I cannot think that John McCarroll (or any other administrative person) said, “Let’s ensure that Oklahoma’s citizens won’t know what their state legislators are doing.” But if he had, he would have made these decisions. And his comment that he could “find people who could read a teleprompter” indicates some contempt for the fine anchors who have earned our trust over many years. What a shame. What a blow to the citizens of the state.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.