House Republicans introduced legislation on Tuesday to defund National Public Radio and public television. Democrats denounced the measure as excessively partisan, but their real gripe is that the targeted programs are centerpiece liberal institutions.
Proposals by Rep. Denny Rehberg, Montana Republican, would progressively defund the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) by fiscal 2015, to "encourage CPB to operate exclusively on private funds." Currently, the CPB is funded at nearly half a billion dollars, which is used to underwrite public broadcasting nationwide. The bill also bans funding "to pay dues to, acquire programs from, or otherwise support National Public Radio."
CPB President Pat Harrison made the standard defense of continued federal largesse, claiming that defunding poses a threat to the "high-quality content, universal service and accountability" of the public-broadcasting system that the government has "fostered and ensured for the last 45 years." The longevity of the system actually argues against it, however. Public broadcasting was a product of President Lyndon Johnson's notion of a "Great Society," and was meant to fill gaps in the "vast wasteland" of 1960s broadcasting. In that bygone era dominated by AM radio and the big three television networks, there was allegedly no ready alternative to a government-backed system focused on less profitable educational and cultural programming.
Times have changed. Cable and satellite television, video on demand, podcasting, streaming and a variety of other options have fundamentally altered the programming landscape. Niche marketing has created the very type of private-sector program alternatives that 1960s social engineers thought only the government could deliver. Advances in technology have made programs easier and less expensive to produce and removed most of the barriers between content creators and the viewing and listening public.
In response, defenders of the current, outdated system raise mostly contradictory arguments. They say public broadcasting cannot survive without federal subsidies, yet also contend government provides only a small share of its overall budget. They claim vast numbers of Americans support public broadcasting, but their ratings have been eroding for years. Even the defense that public broadcasting is necessary to bring alternatives to lesser served rural areas sounds like an extension of Depression-era government propaganda misapplied to the age of satellites and digital networks.
The case against public broadcasting does have an ideological element: NPR's hard-left slant has never been well-concealed, but the larger question is why the government should be involved in underwriting news and opinion at all. In the first years of the Obama administration, there were plans to increase the amount of government involvement in and oversight over news, a proposal for a "new public media" supported by a combination of direct federal grants, taxes on consumer electronics and advertising, fees for use of the electronic spectrum and other confiscations. Those appalling concepts thankfully have vanished from the public debate, but they are symptomatic of the sense of entitlement found among public-broadcasting professionals. They think they have a right to feed from the public trough because the work they do is irreplaceable.
The last 45 years have shown that the public-broadcasting mandarins are expensive and unnecessary. Cut the funding now. If their viewers and listeners disagree, they are free to increase their donations during fund drives and collect all the tote bags they want.
The Washington Times
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