In several developed nations throughout the world, including the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and Japan, public broadcasting is viewed very differently than it is in the United States of America. In the other nations public broadcasting is considered an integral part of the public discourse, helping to unbiasedly inform citizens on pertinent manners; countering the objectives of corporate media. Unfortunately, within the American Republic, public television and public radio lack funding and are pinned down by their revenue structures. These circumstances force these public networks to focus on programming that does little to inform citizens regarding divisive issues and ensure their programming does not offend any political powers who could revoke funding to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
In the United Kingdom, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) relies on individual television license excises to fund its programing. These levies equal nearly $300 a year per household throughout Britain. No paltry sum, but one that allows the BBC to produce numerous quality programs, while remaining independent from owners and bureaucrats with their own political agendas. Despite the annual cost of maintaining public television for persons throughout the British Isles, it is readily apparent that British subjects utilize their well-financed public television services; BBC draws around 44% of the television audience.
In an article for the progressive website, TomPaine.com, the late American writer and social activist Jerold M. Starr, delves into the origins of public broadcasting within the United States and how its 30 plus year development has run contrary to its intended goals.
In the mid-1960s the Carnegie Commission on Educational Television envisioned public broadcasting as a network free of commercial interests and one that could serve as a forum for debate on controversial issues to ensure all segments of American society could be heard, harnessing the true power of the nation’s diversity.
However, as of 2012 American public television still relies on the Federal government and private donors to stay operational. With no excise tax to provide a stable revenue stream, public broadcasters within the Republic are forced to pander to the groups responsible for funding them; avoiding controversial stories and the mission originally envisioned for public communication by the Carnegie Commission.
The head of this commission, Dr. James R. Killian Jr. of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, saw the writing on the wall regarding the trappings of a revenue system dependent on Congress and the goodwill of public citizens. “A free, innovative, creative public television service ‘would not be possible if it were to be’ “ultimately dependent” on Congress for its funding,’ said Killian Jr.
If one tracks the development of public broadcasting, notwithstanding the creative past programing of KQED-TV San Francisco and WNET New York City, it is apparent that Killian Jr.’s predictions have come true. American public television is no longer innovative and it certainly is not ideologically independent. The risk of losing the substantive funding flowing from the Federal government is simply too great for the public radio and television stations of our nations to strive for hard-hitting independent news stories. A point proven by Federal attempts to completely wipeout funds for the CPB, during the Nixon administration and Gingrich’s effort as Speaker of the House of Representatives in 1994, when public television had gathered the courage to hold elected officials accountable for their behavior.
In his article Starr proclaims, “American public broadcasting is spiritually dead. It desperately needs to be reborn as an independently funded public trust.” And I am forced to agree. As long as public broadcasting is not independently funded public television and radio outlets across the country will be unable to pursue news stories to their full potential and most importantly hold elected representatives of the people responsible to the people who elected them.
The potential of an independently funded public broadcasting system is impressive. With the specter of Congressional funding removed from the head of public television, programs in this mold, where the head of the British government fields questions from British subjects regarding the imminent Second Persian Gulf War with a BBC moderator, could appear on public television station in states across the Union.