Presidential elections are complicated affairs, so it’s natural to hone in on a single issue that might help draw a distinction between the final two candidates. One of those issues that came up during the first presidential debate was whether to continue federal funding for PBS — the Public Broadcasting System.
Mitt Romney told the debate’s moderator, Jim Lehrer, that he would discontinue funding for the TV network. President Obama did not address the issue, but presumably would leave the existing funding in place. Those varying stances seem to show a gap between the candidates, though it’s a modest one at best. Why? Because this topic, like almost every issue in this race, is complicated.
An unscientific Ottawa Herald online poll showed more than half of its respondents didn’t support continued funding for either PBS or NPR — National Public Radio. Nearly 40 percent disagreed and said funding should be continued for both organizations. Nearly 7 percent support continued funding for PBS only.
Opinions on PBS’ funding allocation might ebb and flow based on how much money is in the government’s proverbial bank account. As a matter of policy, it likely shouldn’t matter how much money is available rather it should be based on principle.
PBS and NPR, which both began in the early 1970s, certainly provide unique news, cultural and educational programming. They offer such programming because they have the luxury of not having to depend on commercials for their income. Their income is a combination of public and private funding from its “members.” That business model naturally allows a format for longer stories with more thorough explanations from talented journalists, but they aren’t the only organizations performing that service. Neither PBS nor NPR receives the bulk of its funding from the government, rather it comes from annual fundraising efforts and pledge drives, along with grants and support from organizations including universities.
Federal funding for PBS is less than 0.01 percent of the federal budget, but the actual amount is beside the point. A philosophical difference is at the heart of it. Government should not provide services that can be provided by private enterprise. To do otherwise undermines the very businesses and industries that pay the taxes that support government.
Kansas has three publicly-supported television stations — KTWU in nearby Topeka, KPTS in Wichita and Smokey Hills Public Television in Bunker Hills, serving most of western Kansas. Those three stations receive $2.9 million in public funding, according to a report by Kansas’ Watchdog.org, estimated to make-up between 30 percent to 60 percent of the respective stations’ annual income. While reducing revenue for public TV — which is widely known for programming such as Sesame Street and Dora the Explorer — might not take most stations off the air, it could greatly impact their program offerings and their ability to continue offering any programming if it necessitated buying new satellite towers and other pricey technology.
Times have changed since federal support initially was offered for public broadcasting. Now is a good time to review the government’s priorities. If similar services are available from private enterprise, the subsidy for this allocation might have outlived its necessity.
— Jeanny Sharp, editor and publisher