As both PBS and NPR receive only a fraction of their budget from the federal government, President Trump does not have the ability to wholly abolish either entity — but he can pull that portion of their funding.
On 19 January 2017, TheHill.com, citing anonymous sources, reported that the Trump administration planned on gutting both the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities while also privatizing the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
Concern for the privatization of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which provides funds to both PBS and NPR, led many to ask if Trump was, in essence, shutting both entities down entirely. As described on their web site, the CPB is:
a private, nonprofit corporation created by Congress in 1967. CPB’s mission is to ensure universal access, over-the-air and online, to high-quality content and telecommunications services that are commercial free and free of charge. It does this in conjunction with non-commercial educational telecommunications licensees across America.
However, the budgetary structure of both NPR and PBS is a complex melange of funds distributed from the CPB, solicited from pledge drives, and generated by other charitable partnerships, as described in a piece for A.V. Club:
The vagaries of public TV and radio funding make for a more complicated question of what “privatization” would actually mean for the non-profit group. The Corporation receives $445.5 million from the government every year, about half of which goes to the nation’s roughly 350 public television stations.
They, in turn, give the money in fees to the non-profit PBS, which distributes ad-free content like PBS NewsHour, and Frontline […] The rest of the stations’ money, totaling roughly half of their operating budget, comes from public support, in the form of charitable donations and the ever-present pledge drive.
A similar setup exists over in radio, although NPR was “weaned” off of federal cash back in the ’80s, meaning only about 10 percent of the system’s money comes directly from the government.
Indeed, it is unclear what exactly privatization would mean here in the first place. Some have suggested that Trump’s budget priorities stem from a budget plan produced by the conservative Heritage Foundation, titled: “Blueprint for Balance: A Federal Budget for 2017.” That document does, in fact, call for the privatization of CPB, but only in general terms:
Many nonprofits manage to stay in business without receiving federal funding by being creative and reacting to market fluctuations. Public broadcasters should be no exception. NPR and PBS should seek to find new sponsors, create new shows, and find alternative ways to generate viewership without receiving taxpayer funding.
As no administration official has confirmed publicly that Trump seeks these cuts (which would have to be approved by Congress first), we cannot state for sure that Trump will eliminate funding. We can state that it is plausible he will attempt to remove federal funding for the entity that provides a portion of the funding for both PBS and NPR. This does not mean, however that either would necessarily stop operating.