Yesterday’s Thoughts

June 10, 2005

Funding Public Broadcasting

The House Appropriations subcommittee on labor, health and human services and education has voted to reduce annual federal funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to $300 million from $400 million. The Washington Post has a typical story.

It isn’t clear from the Post article, but reporting this afternoon on NPR makes it clear that the PBS and NPR are independent, not for profit, corporations that receive some small percentage of their funding directly from CPB. In fact, very little of the CPB funding goes directly to PBS and NPR, most goes to provide funding for individual stations. These stations then buy programming from PBS or NPR among other providers. This funding is up to 15% of the stations’ budgets.

In spite of Republican’s railing against public broadcasting since the Gingrich years, the Republican subcommittee chair, Ralph Regula, “asserted that the panel was simply making choices among various worthy government programs, and that no political message was intended.” [This quote is the Post paraphrasing Rep. Regula.]

This move follows an earlier dust-up over moves from Kenneth Tomlinson, the chairman of CPB and a Bush appointee to push “for greater ‘balance’ on the public airwaves,” including the fairly stunning move of naming “conservative” and “liberal” ombudsmen to oversee content. This last move was see as politicizing news coverage at PBS and NPR, except, I suppose, to those who already felt that the coverage of PBS and NPR was politicized and appreciated politization in their preferred flavor.

The reaction quoted in the article was pretty strong.

John Lawson, the president of the Association of Public Television Stations, a Washington-based group that lobbies for public broadcasters, called the subcommittee’s action “at least malicious wounding, if not outright attempted murder, of public broadcasting in America.” He added, “This action could deprive tens of millions of American children of commercial-free educational programming.”

I have a different take. I wish the federal and state governments would get out of the information business completely. Please Congress, zero out the budgets for CPB, but do the same for the Voice of America, Radio Free Europe, The Middle East Television Network, Radio Sawa, Radio Marti, the public relations packaged as news reporting on the TSA and the Department of Agriculture, and the paid commentaries of Armstrong Williams, and on and on. Make it a crime for federal officials to engage in any activities that direct or manage the dissemination of information over the airways, or through the press.

This move will hurt public broadcasting, no doubt about it, but it will help America and it will help the truth.

I speak as a fan of public broadcasting. I have been a near constant listener to NPR for over 25 years. I think I began listening to All Things Considered in about 1979, and I can remember my excitement as Morning Edition and then the Saturday and Sunday versions of Weekend Edition began to air. I support my local NPR stations, KQED and KALW. NPR has been my major source of news and information for most of my life.

Yet I say, NPR, PBS, let go. You are not well served by taking government money. The continual attacks do not improve the integrity of programming. The money is not worth it.

According to the coverage, it will be hardest on stations that broadcast to rural and ethnic communities, I suppose because their fixed cost are comparatively larger fractions of their per user operating expenses. These communities will have to come up with their own sources of funding. If the programming is worth it to them, they will do it. If it isn’t, they won’t.

There isn’t much debate that for profit media report the news from a point of view that shaped by that of their owners. I see no reason to expect more from public broadcasting.

I should not the Kenneth Tomlinson is also the Chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governers. The Broadcast Board of Governers oversees the activites of the Voice of America, Radio Free Europe, The Middle East Television Network, Radio Sawa, and Radio Marti. Effectively this means that Tomlinson is already the Propaganda Minister of the Unitied States. I would like shut down the Propaganda Ministry.

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