Problems with U.S. public broadcasting

For me, learning about the inequalities concerning PBS’ broadcasting was mildly shocking. As an infrequent viewer of the channel I had always assumed there was a general sense of fairness and equality with their reporting due to the public-funded aspect of the company, but learning of the corporate ties was startling. In the interview with professor Cohen by The Real News  he discussed how the public funds go towards maintenance fees, while the corporate dollars dictate what is put on air.

While finding a solid figure on how much each person in the U.S. pays for public television and radio, Daily Kos set the figure at around $1.50 with a total overall budget of $445.5 million in 2014. The argument made by Cohen was that in certain other countries more money is dedicated to public media, but it’s important to note the differences in what type of content is being produced for the public. For many people in poor or rural areas PBS and NPR are the sole options when it comes to accessing educational content.

In 2012 when funding was up for debate during the election PBS chief executive Paula Kerger told CNN, “Stations in rural parts of the country, where their parts of the federal funding is 40, 50, 60 percent, those stations will go off the air.”

…the second argument is that public television tends to be more educational than what the private sector offers. As Kevin Zelnio details, only two other cable television networks—Nick Jr. and Disney Jr.—offer dedicated educational programming for children. “Other stations’ programming,” he notes, “does not even come close the educational value of these 2 stations and PBS.” For families that can’t afford cable, PBS is the sole option.

– “Why exactly should the government fund PBS?”, Washington Post

There needs to be a complete restructuring of power with these networks. In a video published by (below) they made the argument that by removing government funding from PBS and NPR they would be able to make the transition to online-only content, following the models of Amazon Video, YouTube Red, and Hulu among others. This is a compelling counterpoint due to how government funding accounts for the maintenance side of all 1400 nationwide facilities.


However not all of the afflicted areas would have access to this online content. In poor and rural areas PBS might be the only for families who can’t afford other channels on cable. While the content for it’s harder-hitting shows has proven to be biased, it stills provides educational content for children and still manages to report the news to those who might not otherwise be exposed to it. For a public network to claim neutrality and equality with their content these findings are incredibly disheartening. Only providing biased content is not fair to anyone.

I’m not sure what the solution is for the issue of public media as all sides seem to have valid points, but the main consensus is that something needs to be done to ensure equal content. For a public network to truly be public there needs to be an increase in understanding how best to report news equally across the nation.


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