Austin Airwave’s Jim Radio sent along a pithy post on PBS and NPR from FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, link on right) entitled “Don’t Defund Public Broadcasting—Improve It.” It takes on the rabid response to NPR’s firing of Juan Williams — with charges the network’s run by some sort of left-wing cabal — with this type of argument:
The charge is nonsense — and always has been. FAIR’s research of NPR and PBS programming over the past 20 years has consistently shown a tilt towards elite guests and sources — government officials, corporate representatives and journalists from the commercial media. FAIR’s new study of public television (Extra!, 11/10) finds the same: a system that, by and large, fails to offer the “public” much of a hearing at all.
That narrow range of voices is bad when it’s on commercial television, but it’s even worse when you consider that public television’s founding document calls for a system that would give voice to those “who would otherwise go unheard” and help us to “see America whole, in all its diversity.”
The threats from the right to zero out public broadcasting are decades old, and there’s no reason to think they will work this time around. But what they can do is remind those in power at PBS and NPR that the right expects them to act. And that part of their strategy has always been remarkably effective, particularly on public television. Conservative pundits have been granted airtime over the years — often as hosts of their own shows — in order to placate right-wing critics. That’s how the Wall Street Journal editorial page got its own show on public television a few years back, along with a program for conservative pundit Tucker Carlson (FAIR Action Alert, 9/17/04).
Public broadcasting should be pushed, of course — to live up to the high-minded ideals that established these systems in the first place, not to please conservative politicians or to serve up programming that corporate underwriters want to bring to the airwaves. Last week, many public television stations were airing Food Sense, a documentary about the nation’s food supply that, according to its producer’s website, was underwritten by agribusiness giant Monsanto. The site describes the show: “ABC News Now contributor and Today show food trends editor Phil Lempert and a group of industry experts illuminate a one-hour public television special that asks and answers the important questions surrounding the nation’s food supply.” This is “public” television?
If the pressure from the right is to be effectively countered, it’s not nearly enough to say, “Don’t Defund NPR.” What is needed is a call for public broadcasting to fulfill its mission, bringing independent, provocative programming that features voices ignored or marginalized by the commercial media [emphasis added].
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