Commentary

Top Ten Reasons to Privatize Public Broadcasting

This article originally appeared on FoxNews.com on July 25, 2005.
Republicans in Congress are debating whether to make small cuts in the funding for public broadcasting. They’re not thinking big enough.

Here are the top ten reasons to cut off the taxpayer dollars flowing to National Public Radio and the Public Broadcasting System.

10. We live in a 500-channel world. Back in 1967, when the Public Broadcasting Act was passed, most Americans only had three television channels – ABC, NBC and CBS. But today we have six over-the-air networks and hundreds of cable channels offering everything from news to soap operas to classic movies to history and opera.

9. Sesame Street isn’t so special any more. When anyone suggests cutting the budget for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, its defenders immediately cry “they’re trying to kill Sesame Street!” In fact, Sesame Street is big business and would survive in any environment. But also, as Jacob Sullum of Reason notes, “Children’s programming that has an audience does not need taxpayer subsidies. Noggin, which is more ‘commercial-free’ than PBS stations, carries 12 hours of kids’ shows (including two different versions of ‘Sesame Street’) every day, and they are at least as good as the PBS offerings in entertainment and educational value. Parent-acceptable children’s programming can also be seen on Nickelodeon, the Disney Channel and ABC Family.”

8. Republicans are trying to regulate the way public broadcasting works. A Republican chairman of the CPB, which funds both NPR and the PBS, has appointed a Republican activist as president and CEO. He also commissioned a conservative activist to report to him on PBS’s programming.

7. Public broadcasting has a liberal bias. The reason the Republicans are poking around in PBS’s business is that they’re tired of taxpayer-funded radio and television networks being used to campaign against Republican administrations and their policies. Does public broadcasting have a liberal bias? Is the Pope Catholic? I have the luxury of choosing from two NPR stations. On Wednesday evening, June 29, a Robert Reich commentary came on. I switched to the other station, which was broadcasting a Daniel Schorr commentary. That’s not just liberal bias, it’s a liberal roadblock.

6. Bias is inevitable. Any reporter or editor has to choose what’s important. It’s impossible to make such decisions without a framework, a perspective, a view of how the world works. But taxpayers shouldn’t have to subsidize any set of biases.

5. You shouldn’t use tax money for lobbying. As soon as a congressional subcommittee voted to reduce funding for the CPB, NPR’s 800 stations and PBS’s 300 stations swung into action. They broadcast 30-second spots urging listeners to call their congressman and “save public broadcasting.” Their websites said in bold lettering, “Please call your Senator today to express your support of federal funding for Public Broadcasting” and provided the phone numbers and email addresses. This was a multimillion-dollar ad campaign in a week, paid for with tax dollars. It’s just wrong to use our tax dollars to lobby Congress to get more of our tax dollars.

4. Public broadcasting subsidizes the rich. A PBS survey shows that its viewers are 44 percent more likely than the average American to make more than $150,000 a year, 57 percent more likely to own a vacation home, and 177 percent more likely to have investments worth more than $150,000. Why should middle-class taxpayers be subsidizing the news and entertainment of the rich?

3. Public broadcasting gets only 15 percent of its money from the federal government. Businesses and nonprofits deal with 15 percent revenue losses all the time. If NPR and PBS lost all their federal money, they wouldn’t disappear. They might eliminate their least popular programs, they might work harder to get local sponsors, or they might have to tighten their belts. But a 15 percent budget cut wouldn’t put them out of business.

2. We have a $400 billion deficit. Not to mention total federal liabilities of $72 trillion. It’s hard to imagine how we’ll ever pay that off. But you start by cutting non-essential spending. Surely, in a 500-channel universe, public broadcasting is non-essential.

And the number one reason to privatize public broadcasting is:

1. The separation of news and state. We wouldn’t want the federal government to publish a national newspaper. Why should we have a government television network and a government radio network? If anything should be kept separate from government and politics, it’s the news and public affairs programming that Americans watch. When government brings us the news—with all the inevitable bias and spin—the government is putting its thumb on the scales of democracy. It’s time for that to stop.

David Boaz is executive vice president of the Cato Institute and author of Libertarianism: A Primer