Serving the unserved

One trendy, conservative movement of the day is to slice funding for public broadcasting. The reasoning is simple: Public broadcasting is left-leaning and the government should stop helping to provide content when private companies can do the same thing.

Current efforts are under way in Washington and Topeka, Kan., to cut government aid to public television and radio stations.

Proponents rationalize that, say, "Sesame Street," which receives 20 percent of its budget from federal funds, could find a commercial station willing to take it on and would probably be able to increase its merchandising revenue to boot. The same notion applies to NPR's "All Things Considered" and other popular shows.

But there's a huge flaw in this notion of budgetary justice. The ax is raised to penalize the left, but it's going to fall squarely on the center.

Consider the High Plains region, an area of dwindling population and resources, though still a vital piece of America's agricultural scene. In that area, which includes rural Kansas, High Plains Public Radio is as much a part of the landscape as the limitless horizon and brilliant night sky.

But, unlike national programs that would lose perhaps 5 percent of their funding if Congress and Kansas ended their subsidies, High Plains would lose 35 percent of its total funding — 20 percent from Kansas and 15 percent from Washington.

Unlike stations in urban areas, which have more options and deep-pocketed benefactors to recover from the proposed cuts, stations such as High Plains would be faced with doing without, if they could continue to operate at all. They would lose the ability to air some national news programs, and their local news and information programming would take a huge hit.

We mention High Plains because it embodies the very notion of public broadcasting — to serve those who would not otherwise be served.

Serious efforts to cut spending and reduce the deficit have our full support. However, the money saved from cutting all Corporation for Public Broadcasting funds — $430 million — would be barely a rounding error in the federal budget. But the cost to rural America would be enormous.

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