Note: This blog draws in part on my experiences and observations interviewing political figures, writers, and analysts for "The Campbell Conversations" on WRVO. To hear past interviews I refer to in these posts, please go to the show's website. The views expressed here are solely my own, and do not represent Syracuse University, the Campbell Institute, or the WRVO Stations.

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Monday, March 21, 2011

More on the PBS/NPR/CPB Funding Question -- A Missing Comment

Note:  What follows is a comment from "TW," for which I received an email notice, but which does not appear--at least it does not appear for me--in the post it is supposed to be attached to.  I am looking into this problem.  But it's a thoughtful comment and I am reproducing it here as a guest post.  I'm not personally convinced by TW's argument against funding PBS and NPR, but I also think TW makes many good points.

Disclosures first…I am a registered voter, but not registered with any political party. I trend fiscally conservative and socially liberal.

1. Is the programming on PBS / NPR worthwhile and valuable? Absolutely.

2. Does story selection and commentary lean to the Left? Probably a bit.

3. Does the public ‘trust’ the content coming from PBS / NPR more so than other sources? Maybe.

Yet none of the above elicits my support for continued government / public funding for PBS / NPR.

1. Worthwhile and valuable programming is available from a multitude of commercially successful media outlets (The History Channel, The Discovery Channel, The Food Network, The Learning Channel, etc), and via the Internet. All of these venues have proven that the American public will support quality programming – as evidenced by their continued operation in spite of the fact that part of their ‘competition’ (PBS) is federally subsidized. Given the quality of the content produced by PBS / NPR, why wouldn’t they continue to be successful with a model that uses commercial (i.e. advertising) support alone?

2. It seems to me that the percentage of programming on PBS that is ‘political’ is relatively small, with the majority being educational, arts, culture, etc. NPR, by its nature spends more of its broadcasting day discussing political issues and news topics of the day. Of course this breakdown is purely my perception, and my exposure to any ‘radio’ is limited to time spent driving. Still, PBS and NPR have existed for several decades, through both Republican and Democrat administrations. All media probably leans in one direction or the other, some of course more obviously then others. That is why it is important to watch / listen to multiple sources to best gain an understanding of the ‘real’ picture.

3. A poll on the PBS website under the ‘About Us’ link lists PBS as “#1 in public trust”. I had gone to this section to look for the Mission and Vision statements. Quite frankly, the fact that someone stands up and points outs how trustworthy they are usually sends up a huge red flag and immediately invites suspicion. How ‘trust’ is measured can be a subject for another debate entirely. Again, for me the best bet is to get information from multiple sources - the truth is usually somewhere in the middle.

I believe that when lawmakers created the CPB / PBS / NPR, their intent was to ensure that quality programming was available to the people in a time when television was only in its infancy (or perhaps toddlerhood). Perhaps the fear was that commercial television of the day would neglect the areas of art and education because they wouldn’t be profitable. We know now, that is not the case. Should all government entities remain in perpetuity because their original premise was good, or shouldn’t we revisit things from time to time and ask questions such as; is the mission still valid, has it been achieved, is it still necessary?



LisaMJ said...

I agree with some of TW's points but I would strenuously argue against his point about other outlets, particularly the cable stations, being on par with what is on PBS (NPR is a separate issue I won’t go into here). In no way, shape, or form can most of the content on cable come anywhere near what is produced by PBS. With the possible exception of the Food Network, which I never watch, the channels TW listed have all degraded greatly in quality and have diverged greatly from the content they originally provided.

The weakening of the substance provided on “educational channels” on cable has been a big pet peeve of mine for quite some time, and though I could go on and on about the examples, I will zero in specifically on the History Channel. In the past, the History Channel, provided regular programming on a variety of historical topics, though it had a very American slant with a heavy bias towards programming on WWII and the Civil War. The History Channel's programming is now largely made up of reality programs that have, at best, a tangential relationship to history. For instance, their most popular shows in primetime are things like "Ice Road Truckers" "Top Shot" "Ax Men" "American Pickers" the US version of "Top Gear" and "Pawn Stars." I can see a slight history tie-in with the pawn show and the "pickers" show (they are essentially antique/junk men) b/c they sometimes purchase historical items, and maybe even the shooting show b/c I think I’ve seen them use historical weapons on the few occasions I watched. I suppose if you really stretch it "Top Gear" might feature some older cars which kind of adds a slight patina of relevance to history (I’m basing that on watching the UK version, I can’t bring myself to watch the US version yet b/c I get tired of British shows being ruined for American retreads). Shows like these are a huge part of their programming, at least in the evening and more often than not, they produce very little new programming and when they aren't showing reality shows they show re-runs of older documentaries. I used to be an avid watcher, and though I still check in and use the channel listing feature on my cable box to scan their TV line up for a few weeks in advance at a time, I maybe see a show produced in 2011 or 2010 listed every other week, and sometimes less often than that.

The Learning Channel is an even worse example and though I won't go into the many reality shows they feature as I did with the History Channel, I will note that they don't even call themselves by their original name and only go by TLC. I would argue that had you not been aware of the level of programming they used to produce or of their full name, you'd be hard pressed to guess that TLC stood for The Learning Channel based on their current programming.

PBS has a much better track record of providing regular new programming and on subject matter varying from history, to science, to public affairs, to cooking, and co-funding original programming for local stations that have relevance to specific geographical regions. No cable network does work that even approaches the breadth and depth across topics that PBS does hands down. So arguing that cable is a viable substitute to what PBS or the Corporation for Public Broadcasting does, largely with donations and some funding from the government doesn’t hold water, at least not for me.

Anonymous said...


Thanks for your response to my comment. My intent was not to suggest that any of the cable channels I listed, or any particular program thereon is ‘better’ than that offered on PBS. Nor was my intent to suggest that these cable outlets should be considered a ‘substitute’ for PBS. In fact, there is nothing you have pointed out in your comment that I disagree with.

If we both agree that PBS provides quality programming, even programming that is superior to that which is available on commercial successful cable outlets, wouldn’t it stand to reason that the PBS network could also be commercially viable without government subsidies?



Thanks for the opportunity to express my opinion.


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