Save public broadcasting

Save public broadcasting

February 23rd, 2011 in Opinion Times

The Republican-controlled U.S. House voted last week to eliminate funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the agency that distributes money to the nation's 368 public television stations -- including WTCI and WNGH, the area's PBS affiliates -- and 934 public radio stations. The Corporation is a popular GOP target. It has been in the funding-reduction bulls-eye in the past, but always has survived. The current effort, however, is far more serious. It should be derailed.

The de-funding bill, part of the effort to whack $60 billion from the budget, still must pass the Senate. That seems unlikely, but public broadcasting fans can't assume that is the case. They must act.

Given the circumstances, those who believe that the nation's public broadcast stations provide a valuable service and a useful return on the dollar should make their desires known to their U.S. senators. Better that than take a chance that the CPB will fall victim to the GOP's long-standing desire to eliminate or sharply diminish what many Republicans believe -- incorrectly -- is a left-leaning organization. An objective view offers a different picture.

More than half of Americans use the public media each month. A broadcasting landscape without or with financially emasculated stations would be bleak. Paul Grove, president and CEO of WTCI, which counts on federal support for about 29 percent of its annual budget, offers a picture of what his station's schedule might look like without federal support. It wouldn't be familiar or attractive.

"We would not be able to carry "Sesame Street," "PBS Newshour" and all the other PBS favorites that our viewers appreciate. We'd also have to re-examine our entire mission as an educational station," Grove said. Indeed, the community would be the poorer if familiar and well-loved national and local programming had to be cut.

Congressional budget-cutters unfairly demonize public broadcasting. They might not approve of it, but the general populace does. The authoritative Roper Poll reports that Americans, for the seventh year in a row, say public broadcasting is the most trusted and unbiased institution among nationally known organizations and the most trusted source of news and public affairs among broadcast and cable sources. That approval, if Republicans care to read the poll, crosses all ideological and politically partisan lines.

Opponents of public broadcasting conveniently overlook such information. There's no argument here that the federal budget needs to be cut, but gutting public broadcasting will do little to achieve that goal. Numbers crunchers say elimination of public radio and TV funding would reduce the current budget deficit by less than three-thousandths of one percent. There are bigger and far, far better targets.

The effort to cut or eliminate federal funds for public radio and TV is short-sighted and contrary to public wishes. The Senate should resoundingly reject the effort to do so.