So with just about the regularity of a PBS fund drive here comes the annual attack on including public broadcasting in the federal budget. Whether or not the more conservative amongst us decide to play fair is up for grabs.
As usual the arguments are trickling out,"They make money on the Muppets", "most people have a TV and most have basic cable we don't need public television", "our resources are limited we can't afford to pay for television."
The reality is that the Corporation for Public Broadcast provides 10% of the funding for PBS and NPR-that's it. The rest is left for listeners/viewers, sales of Sesame Street videos, private donors, and the like to come up with-and that is exactly how PBS and NPR want to keep things. We all benefit from having public television and radio that are funded my multiple sources-not advertisers.
If the government was the sole source of funding for PBS Charlie Rose and Bill Moyers would have been unemployed long ago and NPR's Scott Simon would be out trolling his wares on a corner. The Muppets are not owned by PBS, neither is Julia Child, the Boston Pops, or This Old House. Sesame Street is produced by a nonprofit that reinvests every dime it earns in providing educational programs without junk food advertisements. Julia, the Pops, and This Old House all make money too-but their PBS productions are for a broad audience that may only see the inside of a concert hall during the Pops productions.
Second, the spread of cable and satellite television could be called a blessing or a curse for most Americans. However, that spread is most common in major markets not rural areas. There are still many parts of the American landscape that do not have the 24 hour roll call of drivel and cartoons available-and for those Americans PBS provides preschool friends like Elmo, a broader view of the world through Nova, and the symphony to boot.
Third, and maybe most importantly-while all media is biased; no matter how well intentioned or earnest the journalists and producers may be NPR, and PBS programming is blissfully free of violent, sugar coated animatronic ads and when you are the parent or grandparent of a little American-that makes a difference. It also makes a difference for those children who don't get to go to preschool or whose only exposure to spoken English before grade school is "Clifford the Big Red Dog." Additionally, the Sesame Workshop Nonprofit and other public broadcasting entities bring programming to people around the world to share with them and about them to the millions of Americans who may never travel beyond our nations borders.
My sons are long past Sesame Street age and feign torture every time they get in the car and hear NPR. But the reality is both of them have been shaped by listening even passively to the programming on both NPR and PBS. Programming that celebrates the American experience in all of it's messy and imperfect glory, welcomes a view of America that is wider than the one displayed in popular culture, and asks tough questions about what we really value.