Public Broadcasting – Time to Close the Federal Spigot

by Mike Wendy on March 4, 2011

With our soaring deficit and out-of-control federal spending, public broadcasting’s in the cross-hairs of late.  Members in the House and Senate are ear-deep in legislative efforts to defund the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which doles out federal dollars (approximately $430 million) to public broadcasting stalwarts, PBS and NPR. Speaking to this perennial battle, Senator Jim DeMint had a piece in the WSJ today stating it’s about time that public broadcasting go private.

In the piece he notes:

Public broadcasting can pay its presidents half-million and million dollar salaries. Its children’s programs are making hundreds of millions in sales. Liberal financiers are willing to write million-dollar checks to help these organizations. There’s no reason taxpayers need to subsidize them anymore.

But, PBS and others are not going away quietly.  In what some call, well, illegal, public broadcasters, which benefit from federal appropriations dollars, are urging their supporters to contact Congress – that is, lobby their elected Representatives and Senators – so that the cuts in funding don’t occur.

PBS’ CEO Paula Kerger has made a personal appeal (which I woke up to this morning after turning on public television for my daughter).  And, the PBS website has embarked on a grassroots campaign to connect its supporters to their congressional representatives.

PBS grassroots lobbying campaign "action alert"

Two things from this campaign stick in my craw.  One – from a taxpayer point of view, our taxes should not be used to lobby…for more taxpayer dollars.  What a waste, and what a perversion of process (especially in light that as per 18 U.S.C. § 1913 this activity is arguably illegal).  And two – I can’t see how any amount of accounting gymnastics can make the last line in the following PBS disclaimer true:

170 Million Americans for Public Broadcasting is a collaboration of public radio and television stations, national organizations, producers and our viewers and listeners throughout the country in favor of a strong public media in the United States. This project receives no government funding and participating stations use no public funds to promote this effort. (emphasis added)

No public funds used.  Zero.  Nada.  None.

Among all the partners listed, not one public dime was used to promote this effort? So, it was all done with play money?  Volunteered, during un-paid lunch and coffee breaks? Debated, created and strategized during Miller Time, off the clock? Slickly produced gratis by Hollywood producers and web designers? Placed on privately funded servers and broadcasting equipment?  Created and housed on private property?  Connected over non-federally subsidized telecommunications lines?  And disseminated via unlicensed airwaves to PBS / NPR audiences across America?

An unequivocal goose-egg?

Of course this is all political.  Both sides.  But as Jim DeMint laments:

The best way to stop the “partisan meddling” in public broadcasting…is by ending the taxpayers’ obligation to pay for it. The politics will be out of public broadcasting as soon as the government gets out of the business of paying for it.

It’s about time to close the spigot.




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