What do we mean by “public media”?
Public media include all broadcast, print, and Internet media whose mission is to serve the public rather than to make a profit. It is the noncommercial part of the modern media landscape – designed specifically to inform, educate, and enhance the lives of the public.
Public radio and television stations, in contrast to most commercial broadcasters, tend to be locally owned and operated. Their governing boards and community advisors work diligently to provide programs and services that are responsive to local needs.
PBS, NPR…and more
The Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) is a nonprofit organization that distributes programming to the nation’s public television stations. It is responsible for providing programs such as Sesame Street, NOVA, PBS NewsHour, Antiques Roadshow, Frontline, This Old House, Clifford the Big Red Dog, and literally hundreds more.
National Public Radio (NPR), too, is a popular radio service that listeners rely on for news, music, and quality programming. It’s a nonprofit organization that distributes programs to public radio stations across the country. Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Car Talk, Marian McPartland’s Piano Jazz, or World of Opera are just a sampling of NPR shows.
Public broadcasters – both TV and radio – aim to serve a broad cross section of the public in their local communities – including people of all ages, economic levels, interests, and ethnicities. To do so they select and air programs produced by PBS and NPR and also by other nonprofit organizations such as Public Radio International (PRI), American Public Media, The National Minority Consortia, and several more. Public broadcasters also produce some programming locally.
But what is CPB?
The Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) is an agency that funds PBS, NPR and other public media producers. It is a private, nonprofit corporation established by the federal government via the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967. In creating CPB, Congress acknowledged the need for public media in a healthy democracy. The Act stated that “public television and radio…constitute valuable local community resources…to address national concerns and solve local problems.”
CPB does not produce programming. Rather, it funds organizations that do produce programs, while protecting those producers from partisan influences. It was created to facilitate the development of public broadcasting and to protect public broadcasters from political or other extraneous interference.
Quoting from the CPB’s Web site (http://www.cpb.org/aboutcpb/): “Since 1968, CPB has been the steward of the federal government’s investment in public broadcasting and the largest single source of funding for public radio, television, and related online and mobile services. For approximately $1.35 per American per year, CPB provides essential operational support for the nearly 1,300 locally-owned and -operated public television and radio stations, which reach virtually every household in the country.”
Public broadcasting under fire
Federal funding for CPB frequently has come under fire by lawmakers. In the current budgetary climate, it is no surprise that CPB’s government support is again in jeopardy. In addition, here in South Carolina, state supports for SC ETV have been questioned by Governor Haley. The possibility exists that substantial amounts of financial support for public broadcasting will be withdrawn.
What happens if funding is cut?
Removal of any part of CPB’s funding has the potential to damage any – or all – of the programs whose production and distribution it supports. We fear that this, in combination with a decrease in state funds, will have a chilling effect on the democratic enterprise of public broadcasting.
Not only can various types of entertainment be curtailed (failing to serve the viewers or listeners who enjoy them), but news programs themselves could be impacted as well. This could leave U.S. news viewers with only commercial media, which have been hovering near a 20-year low in terms of viewers’ trust in them (see Pew Charitable Trusts survey http://www.pewtrusts.org/news_room_detail.aspx?id=55018).
CPB and state funding for SC ETV can be the very life blood of public broadcasting stations in rural or economically hard-hit areas, where viewer/listener support is sparse. Rural peoples in Alaska, Louisiana and elsewhere – including South Carolina – are likely to find that local cultural and educational programs they rely on have disappeared.
What we need
It is self-evident that our city, state and country need vibrant, sustainable public media that offer diverse fare, meet the unique needs of local communities and serve the public interest. And we need to ensure a steady stream of funding to protect public media from the whims of Washington and Columbia.
Our country’s founders knew that citizens in a democracy must have access to full and unbiased information in order to make informed and enlightened political and policy decisions. That is why they put freedom of the press in the First Amendment to the Constitution. When information is censored or filtered through the offices of institutions concerned primarily with making profits or grinding political axes, the free flow of unbiased information cannot occur.
Better democracy ahead?
There are many who believe that even keeping federal and state funding at current levels is not enough. Our friends at Free Press champion a “public broadcasting campaign [that] goes beyond short-term fixes to advocate for increased and ongoing support for a system that is routinely underfunded and under assault by partisan opponents.” They tell us, “The operating model of public broadcasting must be recast to fulfill its founding mission to serve as ‘a forum for debate and controversy’ and ‘a voice for groups that may otherwise be unheard.’” (See http://www.freepress.net/publicbroadcasting.)