In this article I plan to be critical of public broadcasting but, in the interest of full disclosure, I am one of its biggest fans. In fact, I began my career in it, a nine-year span at Ohio State University before continuing as an anthropologist for the next 40. In the recent past, public broadcasting has added a number of platforms (e.g., PRX, NPR Now) in addition to the traditional NPR and PBS services — many of which have wonderful content that can be inventive, entertaining and often thought-provoking. However, and this is a very important “however,” I am going to take strong issue with a single item — taxpayer support of these broadcasters.
Donald Trump’s new budget seems to follow through on his campaign promise to de-fund public radio and television. Certainly not a disaster, because millions of voluntary pledges, underwriting and foundation dollars flow into their coffers. Yet, although the amount of involuntary tax dollars bestowed on these services has dwindled, I find no good reason they should continue to receive any. Why? Because they regularly abuse fairness and objectivity.
Just today, a look at Southern Oregon Public Television’s home page finds only six “news” stories — each and every one critical of Donald Trump. Further, SOPTV regularly broadcasts programs from LINK-TV, whose mission statement includes: “Link TV ... is a non-commercial liberal/progressive American satellite network.” Why is this objectionable? It is because SOPTV and National Public Television carries absolutely nothing which would balance one-sided news material or content from LINK. And this is critical. If our local station wishes to use our tax dollars to push liberal ideas (or to criticize conservative ones), then let them raise their entire budget with non-public support.
Similarly, a look at Jefferson Public Radio’s (KSOR) home page reveals dozens of stories — most of them dwelling on bleak environmental assessments, often blaming these on conservative persons or policies. All of this is perfectly fine, but only if the station recognizes its duty as a recipient of tax dollars by presenting relevant counter-arguments to cries that a national monument be enlarged or untouched. Such arguments do exist.
By comparison, commercial broadcasters achieve their support by attracting eyes and ears and pegging their advertising rates to their numbers of listeners and viewers. They earn the right to say whatever they bloody well want fair and square.
Finally, because of my long-standing affection for and devotion to public broadcasting, I’ve regularly questioned its practices on the national and local levels. The response has been, almost completely, dead silence. Again, if my taxes trickle into their budgets without my consent, I think they have an affirmative responsibility to answer public feedback. Lack of reaction has made me wonder if these folks might consider themselves above even such elementary housekeeping.
In the days and weeks to come, be prepared for our local public broadcasters to do what they did when Trump was elected — to mount fevered justifications for their policies and practices and to avoid what any clear-minded taxpayer can see — that it is simply time for fair play.
— Hubert Smith lives in Jacksonville.