Ending public television programs not the answer

The Republican Congress has recently taken to attacking discretionary spending with a buzzsaw, and one of the centerpiece cuts in its proposed budget is the elimination of government funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. The move is merely the latest development in a long, bitter relationship between public television and the political right.

Though the CPB is an inviting, low-hanging fruit for budget hawks to target, cutting its funding is a politically harmful move, not only because the CPB enjoys broad public support, but also because public broadcasting is aligned with many classically conservative ideals.

Public television serves an important role in our society, one that is difficult to quantify monetarily.

Educational shows like Sesame Street teach children important values such as respect for others; public interest journalism from the likes of NewsHour and Frontline is the standard of unbiased reporting free of any agenda.

Shows like California’s Gold and Antiques Roadshow encourage a sense of pride in our great country’s history.

These programs are pillars of public television, an institution portrayed by many as a bastion of liberal propaganda. An editorial in the Washington Times called the CPB “a Great Society-era big-government dinosaur.” Opponents portray it as a parasite feeding off taxpayer dollars, or “the Muppet Lobby,” in the words of Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.).

Other conservative representatives are more guarded in their criticism.

Rep. David Dreier (R-Calif.) professes to be a loyal fan of NPR and PBS, but said  America cannot afford the $451 million that go to the CPB every year. Apparently it has become politically safe to say  “viewers like you” should pick up the tab instead of Uncle Sam.

The CPB would be a valuable head to hang on the wall for Republicans seeking to appease their political base.

But although budget-obsessed tea partiers might see PBS as a neon target for drastic cuts, public television is a fundamental element in modern American society, and it deserves our public investment.

The big networks used to be bound by law to carry public interest programming in exchange for the right to broadcast on the publicly owned airwaves.

Networks gradually threw off those shackles as they realized the real profit was found in TV’s ability to sell, rather than in its status as a service.

They learned some customers are more valuable than others and began to value the demographics that were most susceptible to commercial messages. TV content became homogenous and less innovative.

Public television, for the most part, never traveled down that dangerous, slippery slope. Public interest news shows continued to cover issues they considered valuable, instead of fixating on the color of an Oscar nominee’s dress or Charlie Sheen’s mental state.

Sesame Street, Barney and Arthur continue to educate children about the values of kindness and understanding instead of simply drawing young minds from one commercial break to the next.

Several generations have now grown up with PBS, learning about the universe on Nova and tuning in to see Mr. Rogers tell us we all are special, just the way we are.

PBS will survive defunding by the federal government, but it might lose its public mission in the process. Profitable shows like Sesame Street and Nova will continue, but their success will not subsidize public interest programs such as Frontline and will not balance the books of small rural stations that rely on federal funds to serve their communities.

Public broadcasting has become an inexorable and priceless pillar of American life, and if we sacrifice it for the purpose of a few saved pennies, we will have sold a piece of ourselves in the process.

Daniel Killam is a junior majoring in environmental studies.

6 replies
  1. Joe
    Joe says:

    So how do you propose to pay for it?

    Oh yeah. By sending the bill to MY CHILDREN.

    Stop racking up debts that you expect others to pay for, and then we’ll talk about spending priorities. Deal?

  2. Christopher Ganiere
    Christopher Ganiere says:

    NPR & CPB are small potatoes when you look at the overall budget. However, the federal government has taken to overspending MONTHLY revenues the by more than the ANNUAL budget of California. We are no longer so rich that we can afford such luxuries as these. We need to break loose these government sponsored entities and require them to pay their fair share of taxes like other broadcasters and corporations.

  3. jennifer rose
    jennifer rose says:

    I like cowboy poetry? Doesn’t everybody???

    I miss our local KCET station which used to play mystery theater, and all kinds of concerts.

    It’s a shame more people can’t appreciate public television which is such a tiny miniscule part of the budget.

    Thanks for the article.

    jennifer rose

  4. Diane
    Diane says:

    Yes, and let’s be sure we keep funding cowboy poetry, too.

    The axe has to fall, my young friend, and NPR and CPB are wonderful places to cut. Let the free market sort out which programming will survive. I daresay that if there is an audience for Frontline type programming (and there is), those brave journalists will find work.

    You youngsters have had your minds so filled with leftist mush by your unionized teachers and left-wing professors that you can’t see straight. I find these DT editorial pieces endlessly amazing – that they can consistently produce such a lockstep left-wing view of the world. It’s astonishing! Are none of you brave enough to think for yourselves?

  5. student
    student says:

    sesame street, arthur, and barney- teaching our kid morals??? How about the fact that these programs are really there to set up false idols to our impressionable youth- a golden calf for the modern age, if you will.
    what is barney, but a large, homosexual, talking lizard?

    DOWN with BARNEY, DOWN with SESAME STREET,DOWN with ARTHUR, the talking anteater!!!

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