The drive to defund NPR and PBS in the wake of the Juan Williams firing has reached a crescendo as Senator Jim DeMint vowed to introduce legislation to do just that. Congressman Doug Lamborn will introduce similar legislation in the House.
The Juan Williams firing by NPR over remarks he made about Muslims on the Fox News Channel has brought to the fore the perennial issue that bothers conservatives, in an era of not only high deficits but also 200-plus cable channels: Should the government be in the business of running a radio and TV network?
Public radio and television are relics of the 1960s, when choices on television were fairly limited. But cable networks, with the History Channel, the Science Channel, the Discovery Channel, and so on, offer considerably more educational and cultural programming than public television has ever dreamed of airing.
To be sure, PBS has aired a considerable amount of worthy programming. Masterpiece Theater, Mystery, Nova, and documentaries such as those produced by Ken Burns have enriched American culture.
Public radio has earned a certain distaste for the liberally biased news programming it has aired over the years. Liberal bias has been a problem with a lot of for-profit broadcasting, but it tends to be just a little more disconcerting that tax payers are forced to fund it. The Juan Williams firing simply illustrates the dysfunctional and out of touch corporate culture at NPR.
Eliminating the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and its funding would remove about 10 percent of the money that is spent on PBS, NPR, and its affiliate stations across the country. At that point, PBS and NPR would have some hard choices to make.
One choice would be to close down. Despite the lavish contributions of foundations and individuals, this is certainly a possibility. This does not mean that popular programming that previously aired on public television and radio would go away. The best would be snatched up by the for-profit networks.
Another choice would be to redouble efforts to raise money outside the government. This is also a valid option. Indeed, the defunding of public television and radio could be an incentive by its left-leaning audience to pony up.
The third choice would be to go private. This may be the most valid choice in the long run, but one that management at PBS and NPR would be loath to contemplate. It would mean selling commercial time and perhaps paying more attention to audience preferences. This is not something that people who have been on the public dole like to think about doing.
Mind, it is by no means certain that efforts by Jim Demint and others to defund public radio and television will succeed. The last time such an effort was mounted was in 1995, in the wake of the Gingrich Revolution. Then people were being accused of attacking Big Bird, the star of the popular PBS show “Sesame Street.” Mind, with marketing and other income, Big Bird could be on any network in existence. But the emotional appeal won the day.
Still, with high deficits and a more conservative electorate, public radio and television as we know it may soon become history. It is ironic that Juan Williams may be remembered as the catalyst for accomplishing that feat.
Source: Juan Williams Firing Prompts Jim DeMint Bill to Defund NPR, Brian Montopoli, CBS News, October 22nd, 2010