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No one can explain why public broadcasting exists any more, yet Congress will continue to subsidize this entertainment for a few 7/19/07

Posted by Steve Boriss in Public Broadcasting.

“A government bureau is the closest thing to eternal life we’ll ever see on this earth,” President Reagan once said, and that is certainly true of U.S. public broadcasting, founded in 1967 before the emergence of cable TV and the Internet. So, there were no surprises when Congress, by a lopsided, bi-partisan margin (357-72), voted to continue subsidizing the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB). But, nobody can tell you why.

Bill Siemering, a founding member of CPB who wrote NPR’s first mission statement said, “The whole point behind NPR was to be inclusive, to reflect the diversity that is America, and to let all views be heard.” But hasn’t cable TV done a much better job of that than public broadcasting, and won’t the Internet make this issue obsolete entirely? Jack Mitchell, author of “Listener Supported: History and Culture of Public Radio” once said “the whole idea of public broadcasting…is that the marketplace will not produce everything that’s required of a good society.” So, what’s now on public broadcasting that we cannot find anywhere else, either on cable or the Internet? But as you’d suspect, the worst explanations of all come from members of Congress like Rep. Blumenauer (D-OR): “[Public broadcasting] is providing a voice for America, a noncommercial, independent voice that is sadly lacking.” Say what?

Now that public broadcasting has already outlived the “public” it was designed to serve, it will no doubt outlive “broadcasting” itself, as news and entertainment ultimately converge onto the web. But, there will always be money, which will always draw talent, which will always produce good material, which will always draw audiences, no matter how small. So if you happen to be among the lucky few whose tastes align with this programming, be sure to salute the flag and thank your neighbors who involuntarily subsidize your entertainment.


1. James Cornell - 7/19/07

FoN: What’s on PB –and, specifically , NPR–that can’t be found elsewhere on broadcast media (including, cable and/or internet)–is intelligent, informed, objective, and, most important, edited reporting on science, technology, and medicine. In an age when sex, sensation, and celebrity rules in the mass media, speciality reporting–particularly that of the sort that requires many hours, even days and months, of background digging and delving –is usually among the first cuts of “unnecessary” news content. To its credit, NPR has not only maintained but increased staff and coverage in the sci-tech sector. Indeed, aside from the NYTimes and WSJ, it may be the only national source of extended and detailed reporting on thse topics. And, it is free and available almost everywhere. (A recent car trip across the USA revealed the surprising fact that one is never more than 100 miles from a college , i.e, NPR, radio station. ) Few commerical outlets –print or broadcast–now commit comparable resources to science coverage. And, while much of the same information is certainly available on line, one needs to make dedicated and directed searches to find it. Public broadcasting delivers it into one’s home or car, embedded in the context of other news, so that science and technology becomes–as it should be–just another part of the rich and varied fabric of our culture.

2. Steve Boriss - 7/19/07

James, Per your comment, I’d like to make 3 points. First, PB might seem free, but it is not. The 50% of the population who pays taxes is funding it involuntarily. Second, I am looking ahead to a future of news where all media, including radio, will be distributed over the Internet, and every media will be available everywhere. This will not be an advantage of PB. Third, in regards to objectivity, I believe this concept can be applied to science, but cannot be applied to politics. It is impossible for Bill Moyers, to pick an obvious example, to be objective, but it is also impossible for anyone else. The only objective truth our country has been set-up to strive for is the will of the people within a framework that protects individual rights.

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