Thursday, March 17, 2011

Federal Funding for Public Broadcasting

Today the US House of Representatives is voting on whether the federal government should continue to support public broadcasting. Withdrawing that support would make it easier for corporate interests to influence the direction of programming on these stations. Public radio, for example, is one of the few places on the airwaves that programs a mix of different musical genres and traditions: classical, popular, and folk; jazz, blues, and ethnic musics from various communities in the United States. Despite criticism from both the Left and the Right, it also offers by far the most comprehensive and fair-minded, thoughtful news broadcasts available. In recent years, in response to a decrease in federal and state funding, public stations have increasingly accepted contributions from corporations with a direct financial stake in the outcome of decisions made by state regulatory agencies. In Maine, for example, corporations involved in wilderness property development, wind energy, and public utilities have contributed mightily to public radio in return for publicity and what is called the white knight effect—that is, the good will that such advertising creates, not only with the general public but also with the same group of community leaders who sit on the regulatory commissions, arts and humanities councils, and even on the public broadcasting board itself. Tellingly, once the regulatory agency makes its decision, the corporation withdraws its support. This kind of corporate influence would only increase, and could extend to programming decisions, should Congress withdraw support for public broadcasting entirely, and leave contributions to individuals and corporations only. The result would be the same as in funding our political campaigns now that corporations are permitted by law contribute unlimited amounts: their influence would become paramount. If so, I would anticipate less diversity in music programming, and less thoughtful, thorough, and fair-minded news organizations. While we can get diversity in music elsewhere, news sources like this, which promote civil discourse and dialogue, would continue to dry up, leaving the field to those news sources that promote partisanship, anger, and even violence. I hope that the Congressional representatives in the state of Maine recognize the danger and vote to keep federal support for public broadcasting, which despite valid criticism remains the best single outlet for music, news and information programming over the airwaves in the US.

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