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Hey, Something on Public Radio/TV That’s Worth Discussing

October 26, 2010

For the record, I like Juan Williams.  I liked him on “Talk of the Nation” all those years back, and I still like him now.  Okay, glad that’s settled.  But there’s not a lot of strategy, other that PR disasters (which I don’t cover much) to talk about there, so we’ve not said anything.

I did like this article on Big Hollywood by Leigh Scott, though. It’s worth the read, so I’d suggest you go check it out in full.  It’s on the value of public broadcasting, and some of the arguments people make, and I wanted to highlight a couple relevant points.  One valid point involves the funding, and the results:

This whole debate and kurfuffle exposes a much larger truth. The bone of contention isn’t so much whether or not this type of funding, in it’s stated form, has value to our society. The problem is the human factor. On paper, we can say that these public institutions are above the fray of the free market and bias, but they aren’t. The mission of an NPR is a noble one. It is the execution that is flawed. The CPB gives us government versions of MSNBC and Air America that don’t have to worry about crappy ratings. Our tax dollars immunize partisans and people of questionable on-air talent from the grim realties of cancellation.

But isn’t that the way it always is? We are constantly lectured about the value of “public” institutions and programs vs. the evil private industries that provide the same services. But, at their root, when you introduce the human element, these “public” entities function in exactly the same way as their private counterparts, minus the checks and balances of the free market. Where are, as Milton Friedman once asked Phil Donahue, these “angels” who will manage these public programs for us?

So our public value is only based on the real public-ness of the actual content.  Hmmm.  I’m okay with that in concept.  I used to listend to NPR a lot (aforesaid TOTN as an example), and I donated to the organization then.  When I stopped being a regular listener, then I stopped donating.  In fact, I pretty quickly moved those donations to a private, nationwide Christian radio system (KLOVE and AIR1) that doesn’t get government money to air, but still has pretty stellar coverage.  It made me realize that desired content will pay for itself without the need for heavy funding, provided the organization that sponsors it has a responsible budget.

One other point, that I really like in Mr. Scott’s article, this one concerning Seasame Street.

And what about the educational and quality entertainment like “Sesame Street”? Surely, even a miserly old curmudgeon like me can see the value in allowing quality programming to be financed without the tinkering of executives or the pressure of ratings? The answer is, without a doubt, yes. Unfortunately for you, my statist apologist advisories, all of the shows that have come from public broadcasting that are a “value to the public” have also demonstrated financial solvency in the free market. “Sesame Street” is worth more than a Dr. Evil ransom. “Austin City Limits” makes money from the live performance venues (charging admission) and from selling recordings on sites like itunes in addition to generating revenue from ads on websites like youtube.

The point is that it is up to the producers of these shows to protect the integrity of their work. There is great value in alternative financing structures, through sponsorships, donations, and merchandising. That is without question.

And that’s my point.  Where there’s a viewing or listening audience, the funds will show up.  That can be through commercials (which PBS seems to have a lot of these days) or through funding, or just by getting the big donors to pile the cash.  By the way, I rarely watched Sesame Street as a kid (the Electric Company even less, bleh).  I still harbor nostalgia for it, though.

If you ask me, this is all hot air.  The legacy of public broadcasting will be hard to dismiss, and I’m not expecting that the calls to defund it will go very far.  In the end, Republicans will return to their habits of growing the government slower, and we’ll all still be unhappy.  But if you put it to me, I think I could find ways to redirect my entertainment funds elsewhere, and I’d be happier for it.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. October 26, 2010 5:15 pm

    Much like the educational institutions with too many endowments to need to change their approach to education, the NPRs and others are the last remains of what their industry used to look like
    What’s weird – the entire liberal narrative has been on the persecution “we’re the only independent voice” path for so long they literally do not know how to behave when they have the majority voice except to continue getting more and more shrill….

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