'S' is for subsidy

'S' is for subsidy

September 19th, 2012 in Opinion Free Press

Ever notice how impressions linger long after they have been overtaken -- nay, gobbled up -- by new realities?

Take television. (Please.)

Back when most Americans had few TV choices beyond the three major networks, it might have been reasonable to contend that public broadcasting was a lifeline to educational and informational programming. Without it, one could have argued, with some justification, certain nature programs, literacy-oriented children's shows and worthwhile material in a similar vein might not have been produced at all.

Now fast forward to 2012 and look at how television has changed. Oh sure, there are no cable or satellite programs today that are geared toward, say, history or arts and entertainment or classic films or science or practical home improvement projects or debate of important issues or ... .

Hey, wait a second! You can get all that and a lot more on cable, via satellite and sometimes even on ABC, CBS and NBC. Roughly 103 million of America's 114 million households have some form of pay television, Forbes reported recently. And The Heritage Foundation has noted that even a big majority of Americans below the poverty line have cable or satellite TV. So today, no one can rationally claim that vast swaths of the population are being denied the opportunity to view a range of educational and informational programming. It simply isn't plausible to suggest that educational television would melt away like ice cream on a hot "Sesame Street" sidewalk were it not for those who labor away in public broadcasting.

So why do taxpayers keep having to fund public broadcasting? The question has particular pertinence at the moment. Chattanooga's PBS affiliate, WTCI-TV, and five other public TV stations in Tennessee are on course to develop some ambitious new educational material. The digital learning units on the Web will cover a range of topics.

And production will be funded by taxpayers to the tune of nearly $5 million as part of Tennessee's federally subsidized Race to the Trough -- er, Race to the Top -- educational initiative. So if you pay federal taxes, you will pay for a share of the project whether or not your family makes use of it, whether or not you think it is of high quality (for the record, it may well be) and whether or not it's constitutional. (For the record, it isn't.)

All while less subsidy-dependent TV stations and Web-based organizations produce excellent educational material that you may buy or ignore at your discretion.

That is not, of course, a defense of everything that appears in more free market-oriented outlets. Heavens no. The volume of unmitigated trash on television as a whole cannot be overestimated. Who on earth is watching all those domestic violence melodramas on Lifetime? Can mankind endure five more minutes of Meredith Vieira? And shouldn't every right-thinking person find the prospect of a Marie Osmond talk show discouraging?

But you don't have to underwrite all that bilge if you don't want to. Not so with the fresh millions being pumped from your wallet to PBS via the deep thinkers in Washington. You're on the hook but good.

Have a nice day.

(This message has been brought to you by the letters "n" and "b" for "national bankruptcy" and by the number 1.16 trillion, the dollars that the United States spent beyond the revenue it took in for just the first 11 months of the current budget year.)