The Public Funding of Public Radio, Part Two: I Win When You Lose   Leave a comment

February 1, 2012

The CPB Becomes A Republican Red Herring

If you read my last post, you (hopefully) have some understanding of the relationship between National Public Radio (NPR) and their loosely connected network of independently licensed public radio stations around the United States that carry NPR programs. You probably also know about the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), which has been funded by the U.S. Congress (since 1967), allocating its money independently of the congress. Some of the money that has helped develop and keep public radio stations on the air has (at east since 1967) come from the CPB. When reading the CPB charter, one must wonder just why the dissolution of CPB, and the destruction of NPR and Public Radio in the United States is so important to Republicans in congress. (That being said, the reality is clear when one takes the time to read through the detail.)

The 1967 Public Broadcasting Act was designed to advance public radio for reasons that were lofty, practical, and strategic. The act is unambiguous in the goals cited, and interestingly enough, the goals are in both the interest of the American people, and in the national interest of the United States. The words used by the 1967 Congress in support of the legislation were true to the American spirit. Let me cite some salient points from the act (with some emphasis added). Note that Congress wanted,

  • first, to declare that “it is in the public interest to encourage the growth and development of public radio and television broadcasting, including the use of such media for instructional, educational, and cultural purposes;”   —this passage seems clear enough on its face.
  • Second, “it is [also] in the public interest to encourage the growth and development of nonbroadcast telecommunications technologies for the delivery of public telecommunications services;”  —so it’s not just about creating a broadcast entity (or entities). This is also about forward thinking in terms of delivery systems; while satellite transmission was still fairly new and this was decades before the internet could have been identified, Congress was prescient. (Go figure.)
  • Third, Congress knew that the “expansion and development of public telecommunications and of diversity of its programming [would] depend on freedom, imagination, and initiative on both local and national levels;”  —there are three distinct thoughts here: [a] a need for program diversity, [b] encourage the freedom, imagination, and initiative to create such programming, and [c] that such programming is important on a national and (in my mind more importantly,) local level.
  • Fourth, “the encouragement and support of public telecommunications, while matters of importance for private and local development, are also of appropriate and important concern to the Federal Government; —the Federal Government can benefit from this Act.
  • Fifth, “it furthers the general welfare to encourage public telecommunications services which will be responsive to the interests of people both in particular localities and throughout the United States, which will constitute an expression of diversity and excellence, and which will constitute a source of alternative telecommunications services for all the citizens of the Nation;”  —the Congress, in its “wisdom” knew that one could not count on the future “barons of media” to be responsive to the interests of the people . . . that is , we cannot depend on any political party or any media power-base to place their agenda second—subservient to—the people’s right to know.
  • Sixth, “it is in the public interest to encourage the development of programming that involves creative risks and that addresses the needs of unserved and underserved audiences, particularly children and minorities;”  —here again, Congress recognized that whole groups within the American population were not being adequately represented in the media.
  • Seventh, “it is necessary and appropriate for the Federal Government to complement, assist, and support a national policy that will most effectively make public telecommunications services available to all citizens of the United States;”  —as in the second item (above), here was forward thinking in terms of delivery systems.
  • Eighth, “public television and radio stations and public telecommunications services constitute valuable local community resources for utilizing electronic media to address national concerns and solve local problems through community programs and outreach programs;” —Duh!
  • Ninth, “it is in the public interest for the Federal Government to ensure that all citizens of the United States have access to public telecommunications services through all appropriate available telecommunications distribution technologies;”  —we are still not able to provide 100% of the American population with sufficient access, as broadband, cell service, and smartphone technology are woefully lacking in many rural areas.
  • and Tenth “a private corporation should be created to facilitate the development of public telecommunications and to afford maximum protection from extraneous interference and control.” —In short, once created, the government should not interfere.

I apologize for the sometimes pedantic nature of this post. It was necessary to document the reality that Congress created something to foster understanding through communications, and it worked. In retrospect, Congress was surprisingly on target as to why CPB was created, and what could become of the CPB. What is not surprising is the unforgiving nature of a petulant Congress which has found it far easier to demonize CPB than acknowledge the value of legislation well thought out, implemented, and with historically high public support. This little agency represents an insignificant investment, i.e., $1.50 per person per year, and yet a significant success. But why think about the positives. The far right has chosen to go all negative. In this age of a stated unwillingness by the right to compromise, destruction is their favorite weapon. Expressed another way, “I only win when you lose.” With that sad comment, I’ll close and tell you that in my final post on the topic, I’ll offer an option for Congress to not only do the right thing, but the fair thing when it comes to Public Broadcasting in America.

David Steffen

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Part One:  The Public Funding of Public Radio, Part One: NPR vs. Local Public Stations
© David Steffen 2012
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