©2011 by Fred Flaxman
The future of public broadcasting in the U.S. is really in doubt when columnists like Steve Chapman, who consider it a “national treasure,” write in the Chicago Tribune that federal funding is no longer needed.
Chapman says that if the $430 million in taxpayer funds going to public radio and TV were to disappear, people like him would make up the difference with voluntary contributions. He ignores the fact that for the past 40 years only one out of ten NPR listeners and one out of ten PBS viewers has contributed to their local stations, despite the incessant over-the-air requests and tedious membership drives. Why would this change if federal funds ceased?
Free enterprise zealots might argue that if public broadcasting advocates aren’t willing to pay for the services, they don’t deserve to exist. But private enterprise in the U.S., with all the radio and TV stations that it owns, and all the money at their disposal, has not given us anything remotely approaching the consistent quality and in-depth reporting of NPR News, nor the educational programs for children and adults of PBS. All this despite the fact that public TV and radio have never been adequately or securely funded.
It would be fine with me if Congress cut all funds to public broadcasting, as long as they voted to provide the system with adequate funding from another source. For example: the FCC could charge annual license fees for all commercial uses of the public airwaves that would be used to automatically fund some or all of the noncommercial applications.