Posted by: Calmseas (Mike) | December 14, 2008

Going Public . . . Or Not

At a time when there are hundreds of channels available on cable TV—including 24 hour news programming on several channels; broadcasting of House, Senate, and other government proceedings on C-Span; many science, education, history, travel, movie, culinary and other channels—perhaps it is well past time to examine the need for public broadcasting, or at least the policy of public funding of public broadcasting.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I watch PBS, listen to NPR, and even support two local public radio stations financially (it helps that Michigan offers a very generous tax credit for contributing to local public broadcasting). I enjoy listening to public radio and watching public television, but I do so with the understanding that there is a “liberal slant” at PBS/NPR. This same liberal bias is found in much of the “main-stream” media in the country. It doesn’t bother me, because there is also a lot of slant from the other side, so there is no reason not to be a well-informed, well-rounded media consumer. And as a friend of mine once so aptly pointed out, “God gave us brains to discern.”

The problem that I have with public broadcasting is that—as a conservative—I am philosophically uneasy with direct taxpayer funding of it. We need to ask ourselves these questions: Why is public broadcasting something that should be supported with taxpayer’s dollars? Should a taxpayer be forced to fund a viewpoint with which they may strongly disagree? And, furthermore, should it be the business of the government to run any aspect of the media? It should be apparent to anyone—given the recent government financial bailouts of so many American businesses—that if the government funds it, the government runs it. And the government generally runs it into the ground. Do we really want this in the media or, for that matter, anywhere else?

Public television has always been provided over the air for consumption by anyone who could receive the signal with a TV antenna. The FCC has mandated that all analog, over-the-air television broadcasting will cease this coming February. I suspect that one of the undesired consequences of this FCC (read: your government) mandate will be that a great many households, especially in rural areas, will be unable to receive any over-the-air television once analog broadcasting is suspended. As it stands now, a great many people in the country who are far removed from the nearest TV tower are still able to get at least some TV reception—even though that reception may be highly degraded (i.e., snowy and/or wavy pictures, intermittent sound, and so forth). As I understand digital broadcasting, the signal will either be strong enough to receive the program, or it won’t be. It is like a light switch: either on or off with nothing in between. There will be no dimmer switches with digital broadcasting, and I suspect that this will be a major nightmare for both the government and over-the-air broadcasters—not to mention viewers who at one time were able to receive “free” TV, but now must purchase cable TV or a satellite dish in order continue to watch TV. So much for progress. So much for another one of the government’s better ideas.  But I digress.

The broader point that I would make, however, is this: public broadcasting was perhaps once necessary in order to get quality and thought-provoking programming into the home; today, however, that is no longer the case with the abundance of similar, commercial programming offered by channels such as the History Channel, Discovery Channel, and a host of other specialty educational, news, and information channels. Furthermore, with the demise of analog broadcasting, PBS will be relegated to the role of just another cable channel. And why should the taxpayer support one cable channel and not another? Is it right that taxpayers should subsidize one cable channel at the expense of other viable commercial channels that offer the same programming? Does that not give the “public” channel an unfair competitive advantage over commercial channels?

I do not advocate shutting down public broadcasting; rather, I think it should be de-funded as concerns the public treasury directly. Universities can still have their public stations by allocating part of their budget to their stations (funded indirectly with tax dollars) and by collecting tax-deductible donations from supporters (another indirect tax subsidy of sorts, but one that taxpayers choose to pay, and not one that is mandated). By taking the direct taxpayer support away (mandated, compulsory support), the conservative critics of public broadcasting would, I think, go away; conservatives don’t like a lot of the programming, but they really don’t like being forced to pay for a point of view diametrically opposed to their own. That is not, and certainly has never been, the American way. So it comes to this, in a phrase: I think it may be time for the public to pull the plug on public funding of public broadcasting.



  1. RE: “The problem that I have with public broadcasting is that—as a conservative—I am philosophically uneasy with direct taxpayer funding of it.”
    1. As a fiscal conservative, I want $1 per year per citizen to support public broadcasting stations because I know that they are locally licensed and controlled to serve their local communities. There are many items in the federal budget that are there to serve causes, so why not one of my own as a taxpayer at the 33% level.
    2. That there may be programs on public stations that seem “liberal” is a perception that I, as a critical thinker, do not share. I find programs that represent the whole political spectrum except for the far left or progressive view. Generally, I find the whole idea of “liberal” and “conservative” to be labels to simplify the complex for lazy thinkers. I rarely meet a person who is one or the other except on a per issue basis.
    3. The Boards of public stations are composed primarily of those in communities who represent the vested and mostly wealthy and institutional interests. If labels are appropriate, they are conservative.
    4. Public station managements tend to be very conservative in their programming due to their funding sources, i.e. the community who funds them and in which they live.
    5. A very large portion of funders is the corporate community, which on a national level (and at many local levels) would not be considered to be “liberal.”
    6. Other TV offerings imitate but do not duplicate public broadcast programming. They lack depth and the research necessary to validate what they are portraying, and the constant interruptions cause the loss of focus and continuity.
    7. If we have $12 billion a month for a war of imperialism and choice, we have $400 million a year for public broadcasting.
    Your welcome,

  2. Thanks, Dwight, for your comments. I don’t agree with everything that you say here, but I do appreciate that your comments are well thought-out and well stated. They are certainly worthy of posting. Mike

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