The Potential Decline of American Public Media

This story broke a little over a week ago and coupled with learning that the owners are Republican/Conservative leaning individuals on multiple boards that oversee financial contribution to the entities of not just NPR, but PBS as well; these precious organizations screamed for illumination. As always, starting from the beginning is the best place.

NPR was founded in 1970 by President Lyndon B. Johnson in the form of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Through the CPB, PBS and NPR received Federal funding initially. The CPB however is a private, not a public corporation (a very important distinction), and the congress that wrote it into law “declared that developing public media is an important objective not only for private and local initiatives, but also ‘of appropriate and important concern’ to the federal government.”

Taken at its word, should not these public institutions logically  be financed by say, the federal budget, charities, nonprofits and the like? Who are they funded by exactly? In the 1980s, NPR sees massive financial crisis, absolving it by a management reshuffling, then in the 1990s an expansion of programming, and finally in the 2000s an expansion of coverage here in the US, wherein 93% of our population is within listening distance to one of its many stations.

But it’s that 1980’s period that is disturbing. Further investigation shows that this is when the CPB began their influence. A glance into NPR’s finances graphically depicts how much the CPB plays a part in the financing portion of the organization. Between the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and sponsorships, membership contributions roughly tie influence. Does this make for a red herring?

Photo credit: Flickr / Tim Pierce

Not exactly. Several prominent opinions of those paying attention seem to feel otherwise. Conjoined with known round after round of drastic spending cuts due to over acquiescence on part of the Left for little if no return (Remember the budget committee set to trim fat by President Obama?) from the Right sets up for control of our public broadcasting by the people who run the CPB and the corporate sponsors. We know the political leanings of the sponsors by their very nature but what of the CPB?

Supposedly, it’s a mix of 9 individuals from both sides of the political spectrum with a tiebreaker of no special discernment. This is not working well for the Supreme Court (who does specify the leanings of the tiebreaker), and we see a push by this board already for a more conservative, and status quo style of reporting. Some have seen the writing on the wall and have called for an end of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting’s interference on, in most cases, our last bastion of independent media.

If nothing else, federal money into public broadcasting can be regulated. It would provide a return to higher integrity journalism (not to mention jobs), as well as a more streamlined financial approach in terms of interest served. Aside from that federal funding, the other major player, taking out the CPB and corporate sponsorships, would be individual contributions on top of service/programming fees charged to signal carriers. Seeing a BBC outfit in terms of  its style of journalism and its funding source would be optimal for this country, but whether that is possible remains very speculative.

What is assured is money corrupts, and something so precious as public broadcasting deserves better.


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