Monday, June 20, 2005

Should We Be Worried About Public Broadcasting?

I have received several e-mails recently from public broadcasters sounding the alarm about possible cuts in their federal funding, which could affect their programming if not their entire existence.
The broadcasters are urging people to contact their congressional representatives, to stop the cuts before they are set in stone. Here's a link to a Washington Post story about the situation:
Public Broadcasting Troubles
I mention this whole issue with considerable ambivalence, and not just because it comes up every few years and the sky never quite falls. Rather, I'm not sure that public broadcasting is really worth saving.
PBS's defenders are fond of pointing to its children's programs as a reason for survival, and there have also been other notable productions -- ''Broadway,'' the Ken Burns documentaries and the like.
But I've long felt that National Public Radio is a bastion of elitism, news and information delivered as if everyone was wearing white gloves and waiting for tea to be served.
Public television, meanwhile, has become craven in its pursuit of funds (through, among other things, interminable oldies specials) and in its bowing to conservative interests. Think of Tucker Carlson getting his own show, and of increased censorship of serious art, supposedly out of fear of the FCC, or the ''Postcards from Buster'' flap. Nor is such nervousness new; a decade ago, PBS backed away from a sequel to ''Tales of the City'' because it didn't like the heat it took for airing the series to begin with.
Any defense I'd make of public broadcasting is therefore not very passionate. It's more theoretical, admiring the idea of public broadcasting more than the actuality of it. I feel the same way about many of its programs -- intrigued by the idea of, say, a show about Freud and C.S. Lewis but not entirely willing to sit through it.


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