Public television has public support

Public television requires federal funding to minimize the impact of corporate sponsorship and influence. This is a relatively simple equation, but Congress all too frequently seems to misunderstand the logic of maintaining a network that is not completely dependent on big business.
A 1997 Roper poll found that after defense spending, Americans ranked public radio and public television as the second- and third-best values for their federal tax dollars. Public television ranked higher than Social Security and education, higher than highway maintenance and Medicare.
The public’s respect is justified. In today’s media climate, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting is more important than ever before. All three big networks and most cable channels are owned by huge conglomerates. These relationships have an impact on what we see when we watch television. NBC, which is owned by General Electric, might be hesitant to cover stories that would reflect negatively upon GE. ABC, which is owned by Disney, frequently covers the release of new Disney movies as major stories during their “news” broadcasts. To suggest that MTV has any interest in educating America’s youth on vital issues is ridiculous.
The importance of the CPB is underscored by the relatively tiny amount of money each American gives in taxes each year. The average American pays less than 70 cents to the CPB yearly — 70 cents compared to the amount Americans spend buying products they see advertised on network television, or the amount of time they waste watching commercials while waiting for their program to return. This small amount is rewarded through programming that consistently is honored by dozens of awards recognizing the quality of the CPB’s shows.
Taxes do not come close to fully funding the CPB. In fact, only about 15 percent of public television’s resources nationally come from taxpayers. However, that 15 percent is vital to the survival of the CPB. The money taxes provide is often what convinces other donors that their funds would not go to waste, and for some rural stations, tax money can provide up to 40 percent of the stations’s budget for stations located in an area where most citizens simply cannot afford to donate even $20 a year.
For Congress to consider cutting the CPB’s funding is utterly foolish. A better idea would be to increase funding. For every dollar Congress cuts, the CPB must find a replacement dollar somewhere else. While private citizens do donate generously, the CPB has frequently turned to corporations for funds. The more money the CPB receives from businesses, the less independent the network becomes.
Taxpayers clearly support the maintenance of the CPB. They understand that for a citizenry to be informed, it is necessary to have a source of information that is not artificially swayed by the need for corporate money. Our representatives and senators should remember their responsibilities to both represent the interests of their constituents and also to keep the country strong. A prerequisite to maintaining a healthy nation is maintaining a healthy and independent source of information.