Defend Public Broadcasting

Help protect UNC-TV and WUNC from Bush Administration budget cuts and partisan appointees.

Community Forum on Defending Public Broadcasting.

Thursday, August 4th from 7 – 9:30 p.m.
The United Church of Chapel Hill
1321 Martin Luther King., Jr. Blvd.
(NC-86/Historic Airport Rd.)

*A screening of Bill Moyers' historic address on the threat posed to public broadcasting by the Bush administration at the National Conference for Media Reform
*A discussion panel featuring Congressman David Price and Jim Goodmon, president and CEO of Capitol Broadcasting and national board member of Common Cause
*Q+A, comments, calls to action.

Event sponsored by the Committee to Defend Public Broadcasting. Co-sponsors: Common Cause North Carolina, the Independent Weekly, Balance and Accuracy in Journalism, the People's Channel, Orange County Democratic Party, Orange County Democratic Women, UNC Young Democrats

For more details or directions, contact Pete MacDowell @ 968-9184

issue: 

Total votes: 101

Comments

Forward this to your friends and neighbors. We're aiming for an attendance of 200. We're hoping to be able to engage Rep. more often, and the ability to gather large groups of voters will help, and the Moyers speech is fascinating.

oops...bad typist. That would be Moyers speech.

I confess that I am ambivalent at best about all these efforts to save Public Broadcasting.

We have a Public Broadcasting system that has been co-opted by the Corporate Economy for years. There is some vague liberal sensitivity attached to it that is only discernible on rare occasions. For the most part we get an academic version of propaganda that seems easier to swallow because they trot out reasonable-sounding professors and experts. The misinformation they purvey is not washed down with cheap American beer like the bs from Fox News, but rather is imbibed along with fine wine and maybe a fancy appetizer from a recipe from that Sunday food show.

If we "save" Public Broadcasting, what will we have? It will still be a far-cry from accurate journalism independent of the Corporate Economy. But most of us will breathe a sigh of relief knowing that the forces of Evil could not destroy one of the last bastions of free journalism. The problem is, Public Broadcasting was basically hijacked years ago.

I think it is worth considering if we might not be in better shape if it went away and we had to figure out a way to satisfy our craving for authentic journalism.

This has been a hotly debated topic on the media education/literacy lists I subscribe to. I've come to the conclusion that PBS would be better served by refusing to take federal money. Right now, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) gets 15% of its budget from the feds, a relatively small amount of which actually reaches the individual stations. And according to anecdotal reports on the discussion lists, most appear to be using those funds for fundraising rather than programming. It's not clear to me what value CPB offers to the individual stations. And since CPB has become such a partisan battleground, they may be hurting our access to quality programming more than they are helping it. On a more personal note, I'm not happy having my tax dollars being spent on Kenneth Tomlinson's salary and all CPB's lobbying efforts. This may be an issue where I side with the conservatives (http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,163568,00.html). But I'm still open if anyone wants to provide an opposing view. I plan to attend the Dems forum next week.

The news is just one reason to support public broadcasting.

Here's a few my daughter would like to add:

Arthur, Barney, Berenstain Bears, Between the Lions, Boohbah, Caillou, Clifford, Cyberchase, Dragon Tales, George Shrinks, Maya & Miguel, Mister Rogers, Postcards from Buster, Reading Rainbow, Sagwa, Sesame Street, Teletubbies, ZOOM.

My dad and mom like the English shows. I don't.

I watch anything with Bill Moyers in it. I won't ever forget the Joseph Campbell interviews.

David, As you may know UNC-TV is now offering more channels/programming over digital channels than they are analog. NOW, for instance, is only available if you have access to digital service. My Time-Warner connection is not strong enough to receive UNC's digital channels (verified by a UNC TV engineer) even though I am relatively close to their Buckner Mtn tower (Jones Ferry Road). In other words, to receive full UNC TV programming, I would have to give $60 a month to Time Warner for their digital package in order to receive "free" or public programming. Something's wrong with that scenario......The fact that I know this reflects my support for their programming, not a criticism. I just think we need to look at this issue in the larger context of media as big business.

Terri - You bring up an interesting point about federal money making up only 15 percent of the budget. I see some parallels here with schools fighting tooth and nail, chopping worthwhile programs to earn No Child Left Behind dollars.

I thought the #1 reason (to privatize public broadcasting) from that link you provided was interesting, in that it invoked a "separation of news and state." The whole idea of Public Broadcasting is that it isn't "state news." The original Act that created it had a budget mechanism that funded two years in advance, so that pbs/npr wouldn't be subject to the partisan whims of government. That's one of the things Bush has tried to do away with, and one of the things that's troubling.

CPB was intended (and I'm not trying to invoke some constitutional argument, just saying) to provide news independent of advertising concerns and and political influence. That independence is certainly being chipped away at, though both budget cuts--which would necessitate pandering to the advertsers/corporations--and partisan appointments.

Mark - What do you think of Moyers' work?

Terri,

The Moyer speech is very broad, covering not only what is going on now, but the history of CPB's charter, and how far we are from the original mission of Public braodcasting in general. I'll be interested to hear what David Price has to add to the discussion.

I agree with Mr. Marcoplos and Ms. Buckner. PBS was destroyed years ago. It's doesn't need the progressive grassroots support or money as long as it has the present leadership.

It' s children's programing DOES need to be saved, but it doesn't have to stay on PBS. How about syndicating it to our nation's local public access stations?

Here is what I wrote about it when I first heard about the financial threat to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

The Moyers speech is very powerful and provides the motivation for the Dems forum.

"Someone has said recently that the great raucous mob that is democracy is rarely heard and that it's not just the fault of the current residents of the White House and the capital. There's too great a chasm between those of us in this business and those who depend on TV and radio as their window to the world. We treat them too much as an audience and not enough as citizens. They're invited to look through the window but too infrequently to come through the door and to participate, to make public broadcasting truly public.”

To that end, five public interest groups including Common Cause and Consumers Union will be holding informational sessions around the country to “take public broadcasting back” — to take it back from threats, from interference, from those who would tell us we can only think what they command us to think."

I hope that taking it back" means keeping an open mind about funding strategies. My fear is that this will become yet another liberal/conservative battle with the current administration. My preference is to win the war for quality programming and free speech rather than another semi-annual budget battle.

I apologize for hogging this thread, but here's another little bit of media activism Carrboro residents (including the annexation area!) can take. Call Time Warner and ask them to add the People's Channel (public access) to the Carrboro basic service roster. The phone number is 595-4892. Public access TV is where we get local control folks. Call now!

Is anyone from WUNC or from UNC-TV going to be there?

Not in any official speaking capacity. I know WUNC especially has been very supportive of the event, and several board members have indicated they will attend. One or both may have representatives there after the event to answer questions. Not sure.

Jacob,

Moyer is a bonafide hero. He was one of the founders of PBS as well I think.

Mark

This is an interesting debate and I'm glad Ms. Buckner pointed me to it. I feel the same with many of you: PBS, NPR and the CPB were lost a long time ago. I'm not too into “saving” them in their current forms per say. However, I am in full support of any means/modes/models of communication which are separate from commercial or corporate control.
The larger issue here to me, is that the citizenry, for the most part, has forgotten that we, "the public" own the air waves and the public right of way in which these companies broadcast and/or distribute their lines of communication and that said companies are supposed to be a public service. When they do not fulfill that role as servants to the public, then it is our duty to take that space back in an attempt to better serve our community.
There is a telecommunications re-write which will determine how much of the media goes directly back to the community and how much control private corporations have over OUR SPACE. PBS and NPR are only the tip of the ice burg. Our Chapel Hill public access station is also being threatened with extreme funding cuts (http://www.thepeopleschannel.org/newhome.htm). When television and radio start broadcasting digitally, they will be able to have three times as many channels, with no consideration for the "public." It's very possible that broadband internet access will be prohibited from being a public asset, and only corporate entities could manage them. So when thinking about these issues, we have to keep the bigger picture in mind, and make sure we pick and choose our battles wisely.

Terri--if a right wing governor started meddling in UNC, would you advocate the state getting out of funding the university (after all, Virginia now gives so little money to UVA that it no longer qualifies as a public university in some accountings...).Overall, government funding for autonomous cultural institutions works quite well. Our public universities are among the best universities in the world, the quality that national parks and historical sites provides is at a completely different level than anything in private hands... We should have more government funded foundations with fire walls against political intervention, not less.

NPR offers a product quite distinct from anything else on the radio--quite a bit of in depth coverage, interviews with serious authors, etc. There are problems with it (as usual, I think the left exaggerates the importance of big corporations in these problems. Go to the library and look up a newspaper from the 50s or 60s, long before the age of mergers--they generally stank, and published a more limited range of opinion than they do today. On a similar note, its NPR's quality national programs that make the difference, so I don't really care if only a small amount of money goes to individual stations). In recent days, I've heard excellent reports on the Imocholee workers, Barbara Ehrenreich critiquing the New York Times, and lets not even start with Frontline... I think the virtues of NPR and PBS are ample reason to try to fight off the Kenneth Tomlinson's in the world, rather than just say, okay, you're right, lets get rid of it.

I don't equate turning down federal money with getting rid of public broadcasting Steve. Just like I don't equate certain state's decisions to NOT take NCLB funding says they don't care about providing equal educational opportunities to all children. Federal funding comes with so many strings and regulations that I feel like we would have a more representative "public" broadcasting system through more creative financing. I'm not advocating for advertising--definitely not. But I also am not interested in programming that is so tightly controlled that it becomes socially and politically beige.

As Chad Johnston says, the fight for public broadcasting is set in a larger media environment. This is a fight for "public"--public broadcasting, public access, the public's right to make choices about how the public spectrum is used and managed. This isn't just about saving Big Bird anymore.

I must admit I'm shocked. I would have thought that Chapel Hillians could see beyond the borders of this town. Saving PBS isn't about you necessarily. You live in a relatively enlightened university town, with access to information and ideas that somebody living in a meat packing town in Kansas may not, especially if he can't afford cable.

I'ts not about the Suzy Orman-a-thons, or the however many tenors there are these days. The skeletal remains of PBS is the last access to information and ideas abandoned long ago by the networks in their relentless pursuit of infotainment for large numbers of poor Americans.

Chad I think the " big picture" extends beyond Chapel Hill, and beyond beople who would read this blog. If one mind is opened by a Frontline piece on Walmart's effect of the economy, that's a good worth protecting to me. If one kid or one nurse joins doctors without borders decides write his congressman a letter because he heard an NPR news piece on Darfur, then PBS has accomplished its mission.

Terri--I don't understand equating not taking money from NCLB to trying to save the CPB (and my impression is that most school administrators would greatly prefer changing the rules of NCLB to simply waving away badly needed funds, but its a whole other debate). One is an effort to destroy a public institution (the schools), the other is an effort to save an institution (the CPB) from being turned into an arm of government propaganda. All plausible forms of 'creative financing' will also come with strings attached--or do you expect the wealthy liberals and or private corporations needed to finance an operation on the scale and level of professionalism of PBS/NPR will simply let anyone do whatever they want? I would think this is a pretty straightforward cause for people concerned with keeping some space open in this country for debate. I've heard Bill McKibben, Andrew Bacevich, Medea Benjamin on NPR--what corporate radio stations do you hear people like that on--let me know!

Quality programming is being created and distributed outside of PBS/NPR/CPB, Steve. Check out Air America, public access TV, the Internet. In fact, those distribution venues are more accessible to the average American than is NPR/CPB. When I drive to Indiana, I have no access to NPR in West Virginia and in Virginia, a lot of it is locally programmed music rather than the talk shows I like. Yet I can still access AM radio and Air America even in the mountains.

PBS/CPB was set up in an era when it required huge professional investments to create quality programming and to distribute that programming equitably around the country. If you look at Chad's People Channel or Brian Russell's work on podcasting or Duke's Center for Documentary Studies or any number of other small production/distribution venues, it seems to me you have to reconsider whether the federally funded PBS/NPR is still needed.

I would also add a lot of cable programming to the 'quality' you want Steve. I love the documentaries on Discovery and the how-to shows on HGTV. But I've denied myself access to them from here on out because I refuse to bow down to Time Warner's unreasonable pricing structures. As long as the large cable companies control ACCESS to the public airwaves (and Congress is preparing to give them even more control) PBS will not be 'publicly' distributed programming. Read/listen to Moyers speech in advance of next week's Forum. He specifically addresses Big Media's intention of gobbling up all public airwaves, including the Internet.

Terri--apart from Air America (which in my experience, hearing hawk Al Franken practically call for ethnic cleansing in Iraq--uggh!) none of the alternatives you mentioned are serious competitors with NPR. The Internet is confusing to navigate unless you know what you're looking for--that's why, although I'm quite up on things, I've never heard of 'Brian's work on podcasting'. NPR stations--and there are quite a few of them--provide reasonably diverse programming to far more people than any of the options you mentioned. Why do you think people who like Democracy Now! try so hard to get it on WUNC? Its trivial to say its available over the web to people in West Virginia, because practically no one has heard of it. About forty five people came to see Medea Benjamin speak in Southern Village--how many do you think heard her that day on The State of Things? Forty five hundred? How many people have read threads on Orangepolitics denouncing Walmart vs. saw the documentary on Frontline? And life isn't only about politics--there are questions of where authors, independent filmmakers can discuss their work. I think questions of how to organize the airwaves are quite seperate from whether to fund the CPB and protect it from direct partisan aggression. I think lots of forms of journalism require money, and I have nothing against governments providing it. Look at the BBC. Questions of cable rates, wi-fi, etc are different, and should also be addressed in forums like public events. It's not one or the other. Although I can name a few shows on cable I like, on the whole, commercial channels like 'the history channel', 'A & E' (arts and entertainment--like, you know, McCloud reruns), 'TLC' (previously the learning channel--now pure cheap reality tv) provide a minimum of content that challenges the quality of something like Frontline. Public Access tv doesn't have anything like the resources to mount programming of a comparably professional level. I watch Democracy Now! daily, sometimes tune in to Free Speech Radio, read Commondreams and Counterpunch--none of these are a substitute for NPR. You know, I get ticked off at NPR so frequently that I've never contributed during their fund drives. This thread has seriously tempted me to do so.

Why would anyone try to get Democracy Now! on WUNC when it's already available (video) on the People's Channel and (radio) WCOM?

Steve, I am not advocating against NPR or PBS. I'm only saying the public would be better served if public broadcasing quit relying on federal money. I like the both the television and the radio programming, and unlike you, I've supported them regularly for close to 30 years and have every intention of continuing to do so. If anything I have said here prompts you to contribute to either or both, I will consider the time well spent.

Your statement "Questions of cable rates, wi-fi, etc are different, and should also be addressed in forums like public events. It's not one or the other" demonstrates a lack of understanding of the issues surrounding media consolidation. Public broadcasting has two functions. First, the creation of quality programming. Second, the distribution of that programming, free of charge.

For now, there isn't a problem with distribution of radio, but with television there is a huge elephant in the room (Telecom Act of 1996). Cable companies are the knowledge age's equivalent of 'means of production.' If the public cannot access PBS channels, specifically their digital/HDTV programming, without paying Time Warner or some other cable company, then we no longer have PUBLIC broadcasting. Great programming without free access is antithetical to the CPB mission" "The mission of CPB is to facilitate the development of, and ensure universal access to, non-commercial high-quality programming and telecommunications services."

Wow, Terri, I wish I had time to read so I could keep up with you! I understand why you would support eliminating federal funding for PBS. Accepting those federal dollars will always create problems.

On the other hand, 15% funding is a lot of money to throw away. While what we get is not perfect, it's often good. I don't expect PBS ever to give us all the real news we need, but I couldn't agree more with Katrina's 10:29 post above, and, per usual, Steve Sherman makes a lot of sense to me.

I think it's worth a fight to save the federal funding we have, especially if we can get that 15% funding to do what it's suppossed to do: give us programming that reflects the diversity of the American people. That seems like tax money well spent to me.

I hope somehow we can put the 'public' back into PBS and that the CPB can become 'the firewall' between political influence and program content that it was intended to be.

With some effort, I think it is possible to turn PBS around and to make it more than 'the subsidized news and entertainment of the rich'-- as conservatives like to call it. (Or for liberals, to make it more than 'corporate and government spin news'...)

Terri, you raise some interesting points, but I'd like to present an example and see how it fits with what you are advocating. WCQS in Asheville has traditional public radio programming--classical during the day, some folk and jazz in the evenings, and NPR programs during drive times and on the weekends. Unlike many other public radio stations, however, they are not affiliated with any university or other institution. My understanding is that all their money is from listeners and government and whatever corporate support they receive.

They have transmitters and other signals that extend their reach into rural areas of western NC, like Swain County, where I used to live. In some areas of these counties, there is only dial-up internet, no cable, and satellite provides the only television access. Let me be clear: there is no tv reception of any kind in some areas. And last I checked, you can't buy a New York Times in all of these counties (maybe a USA Today). But, there is public radio. And WCQS is working to extend its broadcasting reach into even more areas.

It's unclear to me how citizens of rural areas would benefit from the discontinuation of federal funding to public broadcasting. But I'd love to hear your take on this side of things. Thanks.

Joan--You say that its unclear how rural areas would benefit from discontinuation of federal funding--I'm saying its unclear to me how rural/small market areas are benefitting from federal funding.

Why not call WCQS and ask them how much federal funding they receive and what they use those funds for? It was similar queries and the surprising answers that formed my belief that the vast majority of federal dollars are being spent on high administrative overheads at CPB, for production of national programming that small stations can't afford to subscribe to, and for fund raising that doesn't really benefit small, local stations. As with NCLB, some stations appear to be spending more money on the monitoring and reporting required to accept federal funding than it is really worth.

I've been very fortunate to live in (smaller) radio markets where there was a much better mix of national and local programming on political, social and cultural topics. It may be that smaller stations are MORE able to exist in the absence of federal funds than larger stations, like WUNC, that depend almost exclusively on national programming. (not sure about the TV markets)

Terri, I started looking online for some numbers and found these:

(from http://www.wcqs.org/aboutwcqs.html)
WCQS Funding Sources (Reference Year: FY-2000)
45% Individual Listener Support
27% Business Support
17% Corporation for Public Broadcasting
1% Grants & Foundations
1% Interest/Endowment Income
9% Entrepreneurial Activities

WUNC (culled from http://www.wunc.org/about/finances/funding.html)
50% listener support
35% business support
8% CPB
2% (just under) other fed funds
5% mix of other things
They also get $200,000 in-kind from UNC.

According to the WUNC site, "many public radio stations rely on CPB grants to cover 30% of their operating budgets, so WUNC is in a better fiscal position than most."

Terri, I'm not sure what local programming you mean when you say that smaller stations seem to have more. WCQS (to continue with this example) does have some local call-in shows on some evenings, but these are very small scale and can't compare to, for example, the State of Things on WUNC. In fact, WCQS has very little local or state news coverage; WUNC is much stronger here. It's pretty incredible, actually, how weak the news coverage is in western NC (but that's another topic).

In any case, these numbers suggest that when local support is weaker, the CPB makes a big difference.

Joan,
Check out CPB's state funding:
http://www.cpb.org/aboutcpb/financials/funding/

Clearly the money is going to different markets (local and state) in different amounts and for different purposes. Community Service Grants "support general station operations and national programming production and acquisition." WUNC gets much more than WCQS but WUNC has a larger market area and includes at least 3 submarkets (Chapel Hill, Rocky Mount, Outer Banks). Plus WUNC is getting additional funding to convert to digital.

I checked the two markets I'm familiar with (Norfolk VA and Tallahassee FL) but don't find budgets for either so all I know is they both get less than WUNC and both have more local programming.

See you at the forum on Thursday. Maybe the facilitators will have more information.

I used to be an ardent supporter of all public broadcasting. I even held a job at UNC-TV for a few years in marketing and research. That's where I started to lose my enthusiasm. We used to spend as much money as they'd let us trying to get people to watch tedious programming that's mostly available now on scores of other cable or satellite channels. And even at that, we'd be lucky to show up in the ratings. It was like pushing a rope.

After that, I threw my support from TV to public radio. I worked hard helping WUNC-FM raise money, and often recommended underwriting to clients who were trying to reach the Triangle glitteratti. One of my companies even 'adopted' WUNC-FM to create a major capital campaign.

In the intervening years, it seemed to me that WUNC-FM was becoming more and more cautious and conservative . . . selling out as Mark M., suggests, to the pursuit of underwriting and corporate largesse.

Then Bush got elected and things really went to hell.

I have begged, cajoled and pleaded for any of the mainstream media (MSM) to get off their butts and practice honest journalism in the face of Bush's criminal administration. But all I could find was more of the same. Lemmings following lemmings over the propaganda cliff, shilling for the Bushman like nobody's business. And NPR was right there at the trough, just like all the rest.

I hold public broadcasting to an incredibly high standard. They're spending public money -- sometimes my money -- so they damn well better be totally focused on furthering the common good. Finding the truth. Exposing the lies. Representing the interests of the people, not the politicians.

I grant that WUNC/NPR is a quantum leap better than most of the MSM in terms of balance and thoughtfulness. God bless them for that. But they are still a far, far cry from anything even remotely resembling an alternative view of what's going on in this country and this state. Like the rest of the prostitutes in the MSM, WUNC/NPR seem more worried about corporate and government funding and what the yahoos in Raleigh will say than they are about the truth.

James

PS I have to add, I hate feeling like this. After so many years of supporting and helping, this has been a hard realization for me to come to. A pretty sad state of affairs.

Freepress.net has a good description of what these town meetings are hoped to achieve:

"In the push to reach a 'big' national audience, public media must pause and recall that broadcasting is inherently a local distribution medium, and that is where the need for public service exists. Americans still rely substantially on local stations for their news and information about local affairs. There are many national news outlets but few local news sources. At a time when consolidation in the media has reduced the number of genuinely local outlets and independent programs, it is critical for public broadcasting stations to embrace that responsibility."

For the full description, including a list of discussion questions, see,
http://www.freepress.net/docs/pbs_report.pdf

I had to leave last nights forum before the end. Was there any discussion on the impact digital conversion is going to have on access? If you aren't aware of this issue, Consumers Union says:

"Commerce Committee Chairman Joe Barton is planning on introducing a bill to complete the DTV transition by the end of 2008, but that his proposal does not deal with the crucial issue of consumer subsidies. Consumers should not have to pay the price for the transition, and Congress must act to make sure consumers don't foot the bill.

As television broadcasting transitions to digital, people who currently subscribe to cable or satellite will most likely be unaffected and will be able to continue using their current systems. However, those consumers with TVs not hooked up to cable or satellite, who watch only over-the air broadcasts, will have to buy new digital-ready TVs or a converter box that some predict will cost at least $50 each. Otherwise, their TVs will go black. Government Accountability Office estimates that about 19% of households rely solely on over-the-air TV and nearly half of them have incomes less than $30K per year. Congress should find ways to avoid making consumers pay for this transition."

I asked the Common Cause spokesperson whether they were trying to saving programming, delivery, or both. He said both. As far as I understand it, the digital conversion issue would mean that anyone without cable, digital ready TV, or a converted box (only works with relatively new TVs that aren't connected to a VCR) would NOT have any access to PBS 2 years from now (delivery). Since UNC-TV has already started the switch, some of us are already missing large chunks of their programming that has already been swtiched over to digital/HDTV.

 
 

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