Mar. 22, 2011 at 9:20amFunding Public Broadcasting is in the National Interest

by Friends of KSPS Bob Morrison and Mary Brown

Governments should be frugal with tax dollars. Sometimes, though, they get carried away with budget-cutting and people end up losing far more than they gain.

Recent proposals to eliminate federal funding for public broadcasting are a prime example of spending cuts that will hurt instead of help America. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting and its PBS and NPR networks provide enormous benefits to individuals, state and local governments, and the corporate and non-profit sectors. These benefits are reflected in the funding received from non-federal sources: most recently 81% of total revenue for PBS, 89% for NPR.

The benefits are also reflected in the positive view Americans have of public broadcasting. The evidence is conclusive:
  • PBS is consistently ranked #1 in customer satisfaction, importance, trust, and fairness – beating out commercial TV broadcasters every year since data have been collected. There is no measure of broadcasting excellence in which commercial TV has been able to top PBS.
  • Among activities supported with federal money (including such things as law enforcement and medical research), Americans rank PBS second only to military defense in providing excellent value for the tax dollars spent.
  • For those familiar enough with broadcasters to have an opinion, NPR’s news coverage is rated fairer and more positively than the major TV networks.

On their own, these benefits are more than sufficient to justify maintaining and, in our view, increasing federal funding for public broadcasting. This is especially true of the benefits public broadcasting provides to children, residents of rural areas, and those with limited financial means, particularly seniors, whose interests are poorly served by commercial media.

Beyond those benefits, though, is a more compelling reason for federal funding of public broadcasting. Simply put, it is in America’s national interest to have a healthy, secure public broadcasting system.

As consistently demonstrated by PBS and NPR, public broadcasting is an essential ingredient in bringing Americans together and giving them the knowledge to succeed in this increasingly complex and competitive world. America is better informed, stronger, and more successful because of what only public broadcasting provides. That includes:

  • News coverage, documentaries, and analysis on shows such as the NewsHour, Frontline, Morning Edition, and All Things Considered that have consistently expanded Americans’ understanding of the threats to the nation’s security posed by terrorism, economic and political instability, and the activities of countries and individuals opposed to America’s interests.
  • Equally important, the balanced, factual, and unemotional examination of domestic issues from PBS and NPR continues to enhance the ability of citizens and leaders alike to find mutually beneficial solutions to the challenges Americans face.
  • It’s not just news, though. The dissection of scientific and technological issues by PBS and NPR on shows such as Nova and Nature has been invaluable in giving people the knowledge to assess new developments that affect not only them, but the nation as well.
  • And, possibly most important of all, the explorations of history on shows such as American Experience, American Masters, and the documentaries of Ken Burns have been a unifying force in America by reminding people of the obstacles the country has overcome and the progress it has achieved.

Some politicians ignore or dismiss these benefits to the nation because of criticisms leveled at PBS and NPR. However, after you strip away the vague and inaccurate rhetoric, criticism of public broadcasting – whether from the left or the right – boils down to critics not liking public broadcasting because PBS and NPR do not pay sufficient attention to causes the critics support.

Criticism of public broadcasting is a non-issue. As scientific polls and studies have demonstrated, public broadcasting ranks among the most impartial sources of news and information. PBS and NPR are the media outlets most trusted by the public. PBS’s NewsHour is the most centrist of major news sources. Contrary to critics’ strident attacks, NPR’s news reporting is as mainstream as Time, Newsweek, and U.S. News and World Report. As well, despite its small size, NPR is trusted for news and public affairs more than CBS, ABC, NBC, and MSNBC.

Despite and more likely because of the proliferation of media outlets, commercial TV and radio, newspapers, and the Internet can not match the quality, depth, diversity, cost-effectiveness, and balance of news and education provided by public broadcasting. Americans overwhelmingly recognize this. Eighty per cent of Americans feel that money given to PBS stations is money well spent.

Even this year with the great concern over the federal budget, support for federal funding to PBS remains overwhelming: 30% of Americans want increased federal funding for PBS, while 49% want funding for PBS to remain the same. Only 14% want less government funding for PBS. As for NPR, despite the controversies regarding Juan Williams and Ron Schiller, the network remains a bastion of accuracy, fairness, and civil debate – those things on which freedom and prosperity depend.

As Congress continues the vital work of eliminating waste and unnecessary programs, cutting funds for public broadcasting is short-sighted and counter-productive. Those who support cutting federal funding for public broadcasting are out of step with the majority of Americans. Whether men or women, old or young, liberal or conservative, they want federal funding for public broadcasting preserved. They recognize that money for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, PBS, and NPR is not a luxury. It is a necessity and in America’s best interests to maintain.

Mary Brown and Bob Morrison
Friends of KSPS and long-time fans of public broadcasting.


Paragraph 2
“funding received from non-federal sources”
Public Broadcasting Revenue: Fiscal Year 2008, p. 3

Paragraph 3
Data from PBS’s eight years of polling:

2011:    “National Survey Finds 69 Percent of Voters Oppose Congressional Elimination of Government Funding for Public Broadcasting”
Statistical results

2010:    “Today’s PBS: Most trusted, highly valued, very important

2009:    “PBS #1 in Public Trust for the Sixth Consecutive Year, According to a National Roper Survey

2008:    “PBS #1 in Public Trust for the Fifth Consecutive Year According to a National Roper Survey

2007:    “National Roper Poll Ranks PBS #1 in Public Trust for the Fourth Consecutive Year

2006:    “National Roper Poll Ranks PBS as Leader in Public Trust for Third Consecutive Year

2005:    “New National Roper Poll Ranks PBS as Leader in Public Trust

2004:    “PBS #1 in Public Trust, Respect According to New Roper Poll

Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, “Press Accuracy Rating Hits Two Decade Low,” 2009

PBS polling does not identify PBS as the sponsor and, except for federal funding questions in 2011, specific questions about PBS are asked only at the end of the survey – after questions comparing media outlets, other institutions, etc. are completed. 

The NPR comparison to TV networks is based on normalized data of those who expressed an opinion.

Paragraph 7
For examples of criticism, see “Noam Chomsky on Public Broadcasting and Alternative Media,” “On NPR, Please Follow the Script,” “Education chief rips PBS for gay character,” “Republican Chairman Exerts Pressure on PBS, Alleging Biases,” and “Broadcast Chief Violated Laws, Inquiry Finds.”

Paragraph 8
“Criticism of public broadcasting is a non-issue.”
See “Survey Says: Noncom News Most Trusted,” “Media Bias Is Real, Finds UCLA Political Scientist,” and “Today’s PBS: Most trusted, highly valued, very important.”

Paragraph 9 & 10
Data from PBS’s eight years of polling.  (Links in the note for paragraph 3.).

Prior to this year, half of Americans wanted federal funding for PBS increased, while only 10% believed PBS gets too much money from the federal government.  Just under 40% wanted PBS funding maintained.  The solid support for PBS funding has not diminished, merely shifted to ensuring that funding is, at least, sustained during this period of belt-tightening.

Paragraph 11
“they want federal funding for public broadcasting preserved”
National Survey Finds 69 Percent of Voters Oppose Congressional Elimination of Government Funding for Public Broadcasting
Statistical results

  • Comments (3)
Thank you Mary and Bob for your thoughtful analysis of the issues at hand. What would we do without Public Broadcasting? There is a distinct difference between commercial TV and public TV.
Some legislators seem to think that with all the new commercial media outlets we do not need public TV anymore. This is a gross misconception. As you point out, other media outlets "cannot match the quality, depth, diversity, cost-effectiveness, and balance of news and education provided by public broadcasting."
It is crucial that government cut wasteful spending but public broadcasting is not wasteful but rather vital to the integrity of our national communication and education systems. Let’s hope our government can find a way to save what has a long term positive effect on our society.

Left by Roberta Brooke, President, Friends of KSPS Board of Directors | Mar. 23, 2011 at 1:19pm
Mary and Bob spell it out in this blog much better that I have read or seen anyplace else. Getting the budget deficit and runaway spending under control is critical, but we can't do it at the expense of institutions that have made and continue to make this country great. PBS is clearly one of these institutions. The good that it delivers vastly outweighs the small amount that the government spends (per capita) each year. PBS is far to important to our society to be continually placed under the political guillotine. It is the broadcasting "voice" of our great nation and it must remain a strong voice!
Left by Scott Tindall | Mar. 24, 2011 at 8:58am
My thanks to Bob and Mary. KSPS Public Television has been a trusted friend to many US and Canadian citizens for decades. All the polls show people believe in what we do. PBS knows we need to do our fair share to get our tremendous budget concerns in line. We want to be a part of the solution. But slashing and burning all the good programs in this country that make us the kind of place we want to live is so sad and so misguided. I am sure when our people look at the carnage left after all is said and done, they will be extremely unhappy. Hopefully, the slashing and burning will not cripple all our goodness. Patty Starkey, Executive Director, Friends of KSPS
Left by Patty Starkey | Mar. 24, 2011 at 1:02pm

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