PBS - Pay Your Own Way! - J. Stossel

John blueoval at 1SMARTISP.NET
Mon Aug 8 13:42:10 MDT 2005

PBS, Pay your own way
John Stossel (archive)

August 3, 2005


My cable company made me a remarkable offer: They want to add a 
new channel to my cable subscription -- and you will pay for it. 
The channel will have liberal news, highbrow entertainment and a 
variety of educational programming.

Sounds insane, and yet the channel isn't new. It's called PBS.

 Public broadcasting is a classic example of welfare for the 
well-off. We PBS viewers are 44 percent more likely than other 
Americans to make more than $150,000 a year.

 I enjoy PBS, but it hardly seems fair that the government demands 
you buy it for me. If I want to see opera, I should pay for it 
myself. Why should you be taxed to pump "La Boheme" into my living 
room? It barely made sense in 1967, when most Americans only had 
the Big Three broadcast networks, but now there are hundreds of 
channels. If there's a demand for opera or BBC drama, the market 
will provide it.

 Not everything on PBS is for elites only, of course. The network 
is justly famous for programs like "Sesame Street." But popular 
programs are just that -- popular. That means they have other ways 
to get money. People already give so much money to PBS that today, 
it only gets 15 percent of its funds from the federal government. 
As David Boaz, author of "Libertarianism: A Primer," points out, 
businesses and nonprofits deal with 15 percent revenue losses all 
the time. If NPR and PBS lost all their federal money, they 
wouldn't disappear."

 Republicans should stop dithering about reducing the Corporation 
for Public Broadcasting's subsidies and eliminate them altogether. 
Of course, when anyone suggests cutting the PBS budget, people 
say, "they're trying to kill 'Sesame Street'!" But "Sesame Street" 
is big business and would survive in any environment. "Children's 
programming that has an audience does not need taxpayer 
subsidies," says Jacob Sullum of Reason. "Noggin, which is more 
'commercial-free' than PBS stations, carries 12 hours of kids' 
shows (including two different versions of 'Sesame Street') every 
day. Parent-acceptable children's programming can also be seen on 
Nickelodeon, the Disney Channel and ABC Family."

   Some people, who apparently have never watched "20/20" or "60 
Minutes," claim we won't have tough journalism on TV unless the 
public pays for it. Only PBS will do "honest" documentaries, they 
say, because PBS isn't dependent on corporate support. Twenty-five 
years ago, Ralph Nader proclaimed that consumer reporting would 
never appear on commercial TV. It would only thrive on public TV, 
he said, because commercial stations would defer to advertisers.

 Today, it's clear that Nader was totally wrong (as he is so 
often). PBS carries almost no consumer reporting, probably because 
the bureaucrats who run it are too nervous about offending anyone 
. By contrast, there is plenty of consumer reporting on commercial 
TV. I criticized my employers' most valued customers for years. 
For heaping abuse on the people who paid us, I was given 

 Why? Because viewers want tough news -- even news hostile to big 
advertisers. Commercial television provides it because even if 
sponsors boycott, the money other sponsors are willing to spend to 
reach the viewers the reports attract makes up the loss. The free 
market serves its customers, and in the TV business, the customers 
are viewers.

 PBS, on the other hand, is broadcasting by bureaucracy. This is 
not a good thing. We should have separation of news and state. "We 
wouldn't want the federal government to publish a national 
newspaper, writes Boaz, "why should we have a government 
television network and a government radio network? If anything 
should be kept separate from government and politics, it's the 
news and public affairs programming that Americans watch. When 
government brings us the news -- with all the inevitable bias and 
spin -- the government is putting its thumb on the scales of 
democracy. It's time for that to stop."

©2005 John Stossel

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