Media is one of the most significant forces of the 21st century. From radio to television to newspapers to movies to magazines to the blogosphere, the average person spends a great deal of time being influenced by the media — particularly the electronic media. Television, radio and other forms of electronic media fall into two types — public broadcasting and commercial broadcasting. Public broadcasting is paid for through taxes (hence the term “public”), donations from individuals, and the occasional corporate sponsorship resulting in some advertisement. Commercial broadcasting is a competitive, capitalistic enterprise paid for by corporations trying to make a profit (predominantly through advertising).
All over the world, public broadcasting was once the only game in town. In some countries, it still is (most of them run by power-hungry dictators who want to control the flow of information, such as North Korea or Cuba). But in almost the entire civilized world, commerical broadcasting now plays a significant (if not dominant) role in the world of electronic media.
In America, there are two dominant public outfits left, the Public Broadcasting Service (or PBS) on the television side and National Public Radio (NPR) on the radio side. One could argue that the Internet is the latest greatest version of publicly-funded media, but that’s another discussion for another time. Clearly not the same thing, at least.
PBS originated from the National Eductation Television network, started in the early 50’s to help local producers in “exchanging and distributing educational programs”. After the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967 established the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, PBS was founded in its current form in 1969, and began broadcasting on October 5, 1970. A few years later, it absorbed all the educational function of its predecessor. Now, PBS has approximately 350 member TV stations.
NPR is the radio equivalent of PBS. Also a result of the 1967 legislation, NPR was founded on February 26, 1970 to “produce and distribute news and cultural programming”. NPR has two competitors, the American Broadcasting Network and Public Radio International. ABN is much smaller, and PRI is actually the largest public outfit in the country. In fact, much of PRI’s programming is attributed to NPR, and many people do not realize that they are competitors. In a Harris poll conducted in 2005, NPR was voted the most trusted news source in the US. Between them, these three organizations bring publicly-funded radio to more than 1,000 radio outlets.
What’s my point?
No, this is not an educational piece on public broadcasting. My basic thought is that we don’t really need public broadcasting. I think, if it were up to me, that we would simply eliminate it. Harsh? Why?
Well, first of all, it’s unnecessary. Public broadcasting was created in a time when there weren’t satelite dishes on 3 out of 4 homes, 750 cable stations, and ABC, NBC, CBS and FOX in every house. Is PBS really that important anymore? With everything from XM / Syrius radio in the car to so many FM stations in Chicagoland that I can’t find a good spot to which to tune my iPod DLO, don’t you think we could get by without NPR?
Now, if these were commercial outfits, fighting the same survival-of-the-fittest battle that all these other deals I just mentioned were, then I would say leave them alone. But my problem with them is that they’re funded with money that could go elsewhere.
Public broadcasting in the US is predominantly funded by three things: dues of member stations, direct government funding, and charitable contribution (from individuals, foundations and the occasional corporation). And this is a bit misleading since many of the member stations are also funded by government grants, etc. So, alot of times, the “dues” are just indirect tax money.
Both the government subsidy direct to PBS or NPR and the round-about dues money funded to the member stations come from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. This company’s budget in 2006 was just about $500M dollars. Half a billion. Proposals are on the table for severe cuts in this budget in 2007 (like 23%), but of course they are being fought tooth and nail.
My question is why? In a capitalistic society like ours, why should the taxpaper be funding something so unnecessary, when all around it there are a dozen examples of equivalent (or even superior) outfits who don’t get a dime from the public till and survive just fine. Isn’t it a bit socialist to keep subsidizing these groups?
And on the charitable giving side, couldn’t that money be better used elsewhere? When the late Ray Kroc’s (founder of McDonnald’s) wife Joan died in 2003, she left NPR $225M from their estate. And that’s not the first such gift! First of all, it’s amazing that even with this kind of giving, these deals aren’t self-sufficient, and still require our tax money. Second of all, it seems unfortunate to me that Ms Kroc’s money couldn’t have gone to cancer or AIDS research … or something that was actually deeply needed. Obviously, Ms Kroc can leave her money to whomever she likes. It just doesn’t feel like an unnecessary psuedo-socialistic service like NPR is a great place for such generous giving.
So that’s the scoop. We don’t really need it and it undermines capitalism, so let’s get rid of it and spend the money somewhere else.