When looking at more than a trillion-dollar yearly federal deficit atop $14-plus trillion overall national debt, politicians’ fight over $400 million to fund public broadcasting would seem trivial, at best, and a distraction from actually tackling the budget crisis, at worst. Given that the funding of public broadcasting is only one-one-hundredth of 1 percent, or 0.01 percent, of the proposed 2011-2012 federal budget, the energy and time being spent to protect or eliminate such funding proves the mockery that many elected officials have made out of our democracy. These are the cards, however, that we have been dealt, the cards that we have dealt to ourselves.
Regardless of what side of the fence you are on, be you an ardent fan of the “fair and balanced” Fox news or “lean forward” MSNBC news, or if you prefer a little of everything, there is no denying the contribution that public broadcasting has made to our communities and our society.
Though some have said it serves as a tool for liberal commentary, specifically when it comes to news reporting, the style and content of much of the programming has brought communities closer together as local affiliates present pertinent topics using area experts. When local content isn’t featured, state, national and international topics are typically reported on in depth and without hysteria, revealing a delicate human side other outlets often fail to convey. When it comes to opinions, it is rare to hear about public broadcasting commentators being at the forefront of public scrutiny, as Rush Limbaugh or Keith Olbermann have been.
Along with its fairly neutral programming, public broadcasting offers educational content that most other stations don’t, and NPR has given many independent musicians a platform to jump-start their careers. Besides the fact that many, if not most, television and radio stations feature the same content to be repeated every several hours, tuning in to public broadcasting often offers a refreshing change from the mundane.
With all the great programming being offered, it would seem easy to make a persuasive argument to protect funding for public broadcasting. We, however, are doing just the opposite. In order to protect this great asset, we are siding with those who don’t want it funded through government channels any longer, but not necessarily for the same reason. We feel that this shouldn’t have been an issue, shouldn’t be an issue, but because it continues to be an issue, drastic changes must be made.
While many have argued that public broadcasting already receives only about a quarter of its budget from federal funding, it should be easy to justify protecting it, at only $1.35 per taxpayer per year. But that is exactly the reason federal funding should be discontinued. Some NPR and PBS stations have already made the shift and thrive on donations to stay alive. Why not ask the public at large to bump up donations that extra 25 percent to stay afloat?
We believe public broadcasting is an essential component of the news and entertainment industry. In order to keep the kind of programming so many have come to love, donations are fundamental to its survival, and though it does have corporate sponsorships, the lack of direct advertising keeps programming free of obnoxious commercials. Because of the nonprofit status of public broadcasting, we believe it has been able to avoid certain pressures to become biased, and we hope it will continue with this business model if direct government funding is eliminated.
Now, 40 years after its inception, it is time for public broadcasting to stand on its own two feet and become the truly independent media its audience believes it to be. Its value shouldn’t be up for debate any longer during times of fiscal crisis.