Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Public Broadcasting and Tax Dollars: Stop the Flow

Above is a poster from a conservative organization (with which I have no affiliation) opposing funding of public broadcasting.^

As a longtime supporter of and participant in public radio at the local level, I'm going to take a stand here that might, on the surface, sound counter-intuituve. I think it's time for NPR to tell the federal government to keep its subsidies.

Don't wait for the combative and cranky Republicans to trim the funds a little at a time, death by 1,000 cuts; just tell them to keep the money and put it into their overblown and most often undeserved pensions. Or maybe give it out in bonuses to their banker pals.

NPR is supported by local member stations' dues and grants. The locals pay handsomely for programming. The local stations are beneficiaries of state tax money, a lot of small contributions from listeners and from local business support (we dare not call it advertising). Donations are tax deductible, so there's a government contribution, regardless.

About two percent of NPR's budget is from the feds (268 affiliates--"member stations"--receive an average of about 10 percent of their budgets from the federal government; some rural stations get as much as 40 percent) and none of it comes from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which seems to be a constant target of Republicans. The CPB primarily takes care of local stations and PBS, the television component.

The Repubs accuse NPR (and Public Television, as well) of liberal bias in their news organizations and I'm not sure that's absolutely untrue. I do know that the most trusted news in America--according to poll after poll--is from NPR. And if you want bias, simply go to Fox on the right or MSNBC on the left and wallow in it. NPR will give you the news, untarnished and honest.

I am not comfortable with our government being involved in funding a news organization and never have been, regardless of how well that has worked in the past. I am not comfortable with corporations owning news organizations, either, but that's another seminar.

Republicans, under Bush The Lesser and Ken Tomlinson (head of CPB who eventually resigned in disgrace), nearly destroyed public broadcasting in America by attempting to change its structure with appointments who opposed the concept of public broadcasting.

They put on shows that made no sense and tried to subvert it at every turn. They were finally turned back, barbarians at the wall, as it were and some form of normalcy returned with the appointment of the capable Vivian Schiller. Schiller, who resigned today after a Republican-manufactured scandal, is credited with putting NPR on strong financial ground. She also beefed up the news organization to enviable levels.

Truth is that NPR is financially sound and that it likely doesn't need government funding. The same cannot be said for local affiliates. WVTF in Roanoke is an exception in that it is a strong station with an audience from Wise to Richmond to Charlottesville to Danville, a huge coverage area, and considerable support. It is the No. 1 station of any kind in Charlottesville. But some stations will fail without government money.

I'm afraid we'll just have to accept that. I hate for these smaller--and more rural--stations to disappear because they are probably the ones most needed, reflecting, as they do, their regional cultures and heritage so well and educating beyond what we realize. One of the benefits of this cut will come as these small stations start to die and their congressional representatives (many of them Repubs) have to explain it.

I am not nearly the devotee of PBS that I am of NPR, because the radio voice is unique. Public Television--as television and not counting its educational component in the community--is not dramatically different in content from much of commercial TV, except that its ads aren't as annoying (during pledge drives they are). And yes, both public radio and public TV have advertising. They just call it something else.

But let's stop the war with the Repubs and simply support the hell out of public broadcasting with our contributions and by turning it on, listening and taking part in every way we can. Most of the arts in this country has had to adjust to the reality that Republicans don't want to support them (the only First World country with an outlook so backward). Republicans will continue, however, to put millions of dollars into military bands (and military toilet lids at $10,000 each).

The difference is philosophical, political, sociological and a matter of taste. It is time public broadcasting took its name literally and went straight to the public for its money without involvement of Congress. That's an institution that becomes less relevant every day. Public broadcasting doesn't have to suffer that fate.

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