Except for the fact the public broadcasting provides a welcome alternative to what someone once called the “vast wasteland” of American commercial broadcasting, I have never given a lot of thought to the legitimacy of using tax dollars to fund public radio and television.
(In some nations that is all that is available — government broadcasting.)
There probably should be a re-examination on that whole concept in these times of economic uncertainty, but that does not mean direct government support does not have a place in public broadcasting.
I’m not sure that many would object to the cultural or educational offerings (unless there is some hidden agenda perceived in them), but when it comes to covering news, that is a different story — for where there is news there are opinions and people will likely feel chagrined to have their tax dollars used to disseminate opinions or at least interpretations that they don’t agree with (or don‘t understand).
Right now the Republican Party and the right wing as a whole and the Tea Party is on a campaign against public broadcasting, or at least some in those categories are.
And they have some dynamite ammunition with the release of a surreptitiously-made tape in which some National Public Radio officials were set up by bogus donators identifying themselves as some Muslim charitable group.
The fallout is that fund raising executive Ronald Schiller resigned after being caught on tape apparently making disparaging remarks about conservatives and Tea Party members. And then NPR’s CEO Vivian Schiller (no relation to the other Schiller, we are told) resigned because this happened on her watch. Oh, and she fired commentator Juan Williams several months ago for saying something about Muslims and airplanes making him nervous when put together.
(A New York Times story I read said that Public Television executives were also targeted in the right-wing sting, but did not bite).
All the hoo haw here is that such actions tend to show that NPR is biased against the political right and the Tea Party and makes light of their concerns.
(Kind of like Fox News but in reverse, but Fox is more transparent about its bias, and should sophisticated people stoop to pandering to the baser side of human behavior?)
Some on the far right and some in the Tea Party I understand do not care for public broadcasting in the United States and object to the government funding it.
Now I think there are some legitimate reasons for them to not care for public broadcasting, the main one being that it does tend to lean somewhat to the left in its reportage and its news analysis.
But I think the thing that really gets their goat is that for the most part public broadcasting tries to be objective. It tries to look at all sides of an issue. It prefers factual background.
Maybe I shouldn’t say some on the far right or Tea Party, instead, “reactionaries” might be the more appropriate term. Whatever, the objectors to objectivity do not understand the concept of looking at all sides of an issue. They only see things one way. Background is not something they appreciate. They hate to be confused with the facts.
One of the major benefits of public broadcasting is not the news at all, but the quality programming: drama, science, music, and so on public broadcasting presents.
It seems that one flaw in the free market system is that it cannot guarantee quality programming, even though people like to watch it.
It’s hard to know whether people would actually pay commercial rates for the programming. One thing, a lot of people would not be able to. All television used to be free to the general public with commercial sponsors footing the bill for the chance to hawk their goods to the public — such as selling housewives soap while they watched soap operas.
In the early days of television there was some quality programming — playhouse 90, for example — and of course there was standard entertainment fare — sometimes people just want to be entertained and not weighted down by culture.
But sponsors found that cheap fare is cheap to make (unreal “reality” TV being the ultimate) and you can still sell your products and have more left over for your bottom line in the process. So the lowest common denominator won out.
On the news side, it is my observation that the big three networks at one time did a fairly credible job and did it at a financial loss, partly out of a legal responsibility and a social sense of responsibility and partly as a prestige and marketing thing. But then at some point they discovered that they could make money on what was billed as news. Success spoiled everything. News became entertainment.
Even the all-news network, CNN, which came along decades after the big three was captured by the entertainment aspect.
I wonder if the current crop of conservatives wish they could have the late William F. Buckley Jr. back with his “Firing Line”.
They’d probably have nervous smiles on their faces and wonder: “is he on our side?”
For that matter they must wonder if so-called conservative columnist and commentator George Will is on their side.
The “vast wasteland” remark was made by former Federal Communications Commission chief Newton Minow in 1961.