Why PBS is worth $1.35/year…

October 11, 2012 3:24pm
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I found a good blog post this afternoon that talks about Mitt Romney’s debate comment about ending the federal subsidy to PBS, written by a senior producer for NOVA, the beloved, long-running science program on the channel…

Can PBS Survive without a Government Subsidy?

For me, I think there are a couple of takeaway points that help make up in my mind that this subsidy should remain off the chopping block. First and foremost, understanding that Big Bird himself wouldn’t necessarily find his neck on the chopping block with these cuts, but more so that not as many communities might have access to PBS programming because a good portion of that funding helps to support stations in rural areas that otherwise might not be able to raise enough funds to stay operating.

Compare this to the Universal Service Fund, which anyone who pays for telephone service pays a small tax into to ensure that rural and less-profitable areas around the country aren’t overlooked by the telecommunications companies when copper lines and fiber and whatnot are drawn to build and support our nation’s basic telephone communications network.

Second, and more importantly in my book, is the idea of what impact commercial sponsorship would have on a station like PBS that traditionally doesn’t have to answer to corporate sponsors, which is something that I think a lot of people might take for granted simply because anyone who pays for cable has literally hundreds of channels at their beck and call, almost all of which are for-profit stations supported by commercials and product placement and subscription fees and so forth. As Chris states, plunging this network into a world driven by ratings and ad dollars would cause a fundamental shift in the core drive behind what truly makes PBS’ programming special – a total devotion to the content with no outside interference by our otherwise capitalistic society. We should be able to teach our kids their ABCs and 123s without them being sponsored by Quaker Oatmeal or the GAP…

Sure, there are plenty of other educational resources out there, but I’d still challenge you to find something with the universal reach that a program like Sesame Street has had for Americans as a whole, and at a time when public education is under fire more than ever, I think that the return we get for that $450 million investment – unfiltered of any corporate bias – is really quite the unique bargain today. And I get that Mitt Romney is a firm believer that private industry can do better than public funding in just about every avenue, but here in the realm of TV entertainment, we actually have real examples to compare the quality of profit and non-profit channels if you look at things like The Disney Channel and Nickelodeon. Dora the Explorer and Bubble Guppies are great and all, but they still don’t hold a candle to the likes of Big Bird and Curious George and The Cat in the Hat.

…also keep in mind that Disney and Nick are only available to someone with a cable subscription, PBS – basically anyone with a TV antennae…

So by all means, continue to clean up spending and see what kinds of fat there is to be trimmed, but at the same time, unless we’re likewise ready to make cuts to the billions of dollars in farm subsidies and defense spending and hundreds other places that would actually make a difference in our $3.8 trillion budget, picking on a little guy like PBS doesn’t really win Romney any points in my book.

And believe it or not, some of those subsidies actually go to things that are very much worth spending our federal budget on – I think the subsidy for PBS is but one example of what you might find when you stop looking at these things from such a high level and actually drill down into where our money is actually being spent before just arbitrarily threatening to cut cut cut for the sake of attempting to balance our budget in all of the wrong directions.

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