One of the first orders of business for the new Congress is to defund public broadcasting. Last week, Rep. Doug Lamborn, Colorado Republican, introduced legislation to do just that. He immediately came under fire from National Public Radio (NPR) for his “intrusion into the programming decision-making of America’s public radio stations.” To hear the taxpayer-subsidized broadcast suits talk, it’s as though Mr. Lamborn was attacking the First Amendment itself.
National Public Radio claims taking away federal money “would ultimately dictate the daily editorial schedules and news programs of nearly 1,000 public radio stations across America.” This argument is inconsistent and unsupportable. Cutting ties to federal funds would if anything give NPR unlimited editorial freedom with no worries about government oversight. They could fire even more thoughtful people like Juan Williams without consequence, assuming there are any moderate voices still remaining in the left-leaning organization.
Partisans of public broadcasting assert that taxpayer cash is necessary for the system to survive, but NPR President Vivian Schiller contends only 3 percent of her budget comes from the government. Such a miniscule cutback in hard economic times certainly should be in keeping with the public-service mandate NPR purports to pursue. It cannot simultaneously be true that the federal government supplies only a pittance of NPR funding but that such “draconian” cuts would put them out of business. If nothing else, public broadcasting needs to get its talking points straight.
NPR’s defense is symptomatic of its institutional sense of entitlement. Ms. Schiller is among the well-connected, liberal movers and shakers seeking to “save” journalism by bringing it increasingly under the government umbrella. The notion is that journalism cannot be sustained in the free market so the current model must be replaced with 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. Editorial control would remain in the hands of the same people currently running the public broadcasting empire, which would ensure a leftward slant with negligible intellectual diversity.
There is less rationale for public broadcasting today than ever. The system is a Great Society-era big-government dinosaur. It originally was intended to bring educational and public-service programming to parts of the country that lacked access to it. Innovations over the past 40 years made up for those shortfalls, spreading television and computer information technology to even the most remote areas. This is no longer the age of the “Big Three” TV networks; educational, cultural and lifestyle programming has exploded across hundreds of cable channels. The Internet has given consumers the ability to access information in ways the ‘60s-era founders of public broadcasting could scarcely imagine.
Congress easily could trim half a billion dollars from the federal debt by zeroing out funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, as Mr. Lamborn has proposed. Public-broadcasting stations, affiliates and other outlets then could compete freely for grants, donations and other funds. But liberals aren’t interested in competition. They complain about the lack of competition in commercial radio (i.e. Clear Channel), but there’s no such thing as competition in the government radio they prefer.
The bottom line is America doesn’t need public broadcasting and no longer can afford it. The First Amendment guarantees a free press, not a left-wing free ride.