Debate Forum 3/8/11

Shall We Continue to Fund NPR and PBS?

As the Congress debates over how to reduce the rapid growth in federal spending, many programs which receive federal funding are standing by and anxiously waiting to see if the budget cutting ax will fall on them. Among the groups that are concerned about their funding is the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB). This news and entertainment organization has enjoyed federal financial support since it’s inception in 1967. During its’ 44-year history, it has been accused by conservatives as having a left-leaning bias in its approach to the news. Supporters of these broadcast institutions believe that conservatives are on a witch hunt and are using the spending cuts for cover.

With their recent election gains and control of the House, some Republicans congressman are asking the question: “Why are we still funding this organization?”

The CPB has two distinct components: public radio and public television. PBS (Public broadcasting System) is the television component. Much of the television programing is non-controversial and includes wildly popular series such as “NOVA,” “Masterpiece Theater,” “Frontline” and “Nature.” Programs like “Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood” and “Sesame Street” taught a generation of kids their ABCs, 123s and how to express difficult emotions. While PBS news shows stir some criticism from conservatives, it is the radio component that they argue is tilted to the left.

NPR, (formerly National Public Radio), created in 1970, is a privately and publicly funded non-profit membership media organization that serves as a national syndicator to 797 public radio stations in the U.S.. NPR produces and distributes news and cultural programming. Individual public radio stations are not required to broadcast all NPR programs that are produced. Most public radio stations broadcast a mixture of NPR programs, as well as content from rival providers such as the American Public Media, Public Radio International and Public Radio Exchange. They also broadcast locally produced programs.

NPR’s flagships are two drive-time news broadcasts, “Morning Edition” and “All Things Considered;” both are carried by most NPR member stations. From 2002 to 2008, they were the second and third most popular radio programs in the country. In a Harris poll from 2005, NPR was voted the most trusted news source in the U.S.

NPR receives the majority of funding from program fees and station dues paid by member stations that broadcast its shows. Those stations receive about 10 percent of their funding from the CPB, which receives government money and spends $90 million a year on public radio stations. While that $90 million doesn’t directly fund NPR, it provides about 10 percent of funding for public radio stations that pay NPR for programming.

Critics argue that even if the nation were flush, the U.S. no longer has a need for national public radio or public television stations. When PBS and NPR were founded, the sources of news were nightly television broadcasts of the three networks at 6 and 11 p.m. and newspapers. The 24-hour news cycle didn’t exist. But with the explosion of widely available media outlets over the last 20 years, critics argue that the previous justification is obsolete.

NPR’s recent decision to accept $1.8 million from George Soros has also aroused conservatives. That money was donated to fund the hiring of 100 journalists “to bring greater transparency and accountability to the workings of state capitals across the country.” NPR skeptics argue that Soros and his history of supporting liberal organizations raises serious questions about the integrity of NPR’s reporting.

However, NPR is considered a valuable resource even in some conservative circles. While the news portion of the programming for both television and radio are questioned by many on the right, its’ other programming is considered by most listeners as unique and informative, and not available anywhere else on the dial.  It is perhaps this portion of the NPR programming that may save some form of federal funding for the CPB.

Forum Question of the Week:

Is the federal funding of public television and radio broadcast fair game for Congressional budget cutting, or is the attempt to cut the funding of these entities part of a conservative vendetta against the programming of these networks?

David H. Landon
David H. Landon is the former Chairman of the Montgomery County Republican Party Central Committee. He can be reached at

One Response to “Debate Forum 3/8/11” Subscribe

  1. Michael Garrity March 12, 2011 at 5:56 pm #

    I am firmly in continued support of public broadcasting, for both forms on TV and radio.

    I think it has long been a goal of some on the right, to somehow do away with public broadcasting.

    I am sure their dislike of public broadcasting comes in part from their overall dislike of government—at least government that operates in a “liberal fashion” and that they do think that the news and other programming has a “liberal bias.”

    Like in other issues going on out there now like gutting most of the collective bargaining rights of public employees, the right is taking advantage of the “budget crisis” to do try to rationalize their going after all of the things they don’t like.

    I disagree with the idea that since we have so many options today when it comes to programming on radio and television—-we no longer need public broadcasting.

    Even though there is programming, especially on television networks that at first blush, seem to be like the programming offered by PBS, I think a closer look at comparing the programming on say The History Channel and PBS is actually very different.

    I doubt that a History or Discovery Channel would provide the time for a long spread out series like those produced by Ken Burns or would provide airtime for programs like “Independent Lens.”

    When it comes to the programming of music on television–I doubt that GAC or CMT would air a program like “Austin City Limits.” Back when Gaylord still owned and called that channel “TNN”–you used to see some programs that highlighted higher quality country music and even some artists that are more adequately considered to be under the genre of “Americana.”

    Other than PBS, with “Austin City Limits”–there is no representation of this genre of music, which is growing larger.

    You once would see networks like A&E feature shows that highlighted jazz and classical music in its early days–but no longer. BRAVO once had a somewhat “highbrow” type of programming-but not today—-BRAVO now has degenerated to only airing the lowest of the low of what I call “Least Common Denominator” sorts of programing with shows like their various versions of the “Real Housewives of ________” shows.

    I think that the programming on PBS very much has its place in our cultural landscape and it would leave a gaping hole in that landscape should the proposed defunding of the CPB is successful and that somehow leads to the end of PBS.

    I do think that even if the funding did dry up—PBS and NPR would both somehow continue and those of us in places like SW Ohio would still have our stations–but it would likely lead to those less well funded stations in more rural places would not be able to survive and that would be a sad thing for those who live in such areas who won’t or cannot afford to pay for cable or satellite TV and also cannot afford to get Sirius/XM sat radio–will be left living in cultural wasteland.

    I have called both Sherrod Brown and Mike Turner’s offices, urging them to vote against any attempts to defund public broadcasting. I didn’t bother with Rob Portman. I don’t know his position on this–but I suspect he is all for gutting public broadcasting and it doesn’t matter to him that any of his constituents are not in favor of such a move. I may just go ahead and either email or call his office to let him know my feelings anyway–for whatever good it may do.

    I would urge anyone who reads this to consider doing the same if you haven’t done so thus far.

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