Sunday, June 26, 2005

Columns on PBS & NPR

America?s Perverse "Public" Media

Tibor R. Machan

The Soviet Union had no free press, privately owned, politically
independent, competing publications dealing with ideas and whatever else
readers would find of interest. The old USSR had Pravda and other state
run newspapers and broadcast outlets.

This kind of media exists in other parts of the world but the United
States of America was to be a haven for a completely free press. Sadly,
even there broadcast media fell into the hands of government?the feds own
the electromagnetic spectrum and dictate a good deal of the structure and
even content of radio and television (via, for example, the licensing
process supervised by the Federal Communications Commission). Still, even
with this intrusiveness, radio and TV do not get funded by monies extorted
via taxation. There is still a pretty good semblance of competition on the
airwaves, especially with the arrival a few decades ago of cable TV and
the Internet.

One thing is, however, way over the top in American media affairs. This
is the prominence of National Public Radio and the Public Broadcasting
Service. These networks are all-pervasive. NPR is in nearly every medium
to large size city, certainly wherever there is an institution of higher
education, dominating the airwaves in college and university towns with
its substantial news coverage, interviews, commentaries and other fares.
PBS is also present in virtually every TV market.

Yet there is really no proper place for either of these networks in a
country with a free press. Both take substantial monies from
government?for example, via the Corporation for Public Broadcasting?a
funding that is totally antithetical to the principles of a free media.
Such a media is supposed to function independently of government, with no
strings attached to politicians and bureaucrats. And no one in a free
society may be coerced into funding any media outlet. It involves
expropriating their support for views and programming with which they can
very well disagree. It is like forcing the Catholics to support the
Methodists! All this in stark contrast with a free press where you buy
the paper or the wares commercials peddle if you so choose but if you do
not choose, they do not come to take your money for their ?services.? But
NPR and PBS take everyone?s money to help provide its offerings.

When it comes to these offerings they are, quite naturally, highly
editorialized, very partisan (although often at a level beyond day to day
politics), and completely uninterested in balance (which is usually a
farce, when attempted in the media). All you need is to listen to just one
day?s fare and you will encounter very distinct viewpoints broadcast. I
urge you to give NPR?s ?Fresh Air? interview program your attention and
you will learn just what ?soft ball? interviewing is all about?inviting
your favorite authors and giving them a forum, partly at taxpayers?
expense, to promote their works. There is hardly a difficult challenge
presented to these friends of NPR. It?s all done in the style of ?throwing
the Christians to the Christians.?

Mind you, I often listen to NPR stations for their classical music and
jazz and blues programming. But I do feel a bit guilty because I am
benefiting from stolen goods, paid for in part by citizens who may well
have no interest in such music and are, nevertheless, deprived of some of
their resources and of the chance to support what they judge preferable. I
am not, however, discussing the aesthetics of NPR and PBS, both elitist
outfits to the hilt and both ripping off a bunch of people who would much
rather fund alternative forms of news and entertainment.

So, in light of the fact that there is no place for NPR and PBS in a free
country, the current debate about whether to make these more balanced is
completely moot, irrelevant, beside the point. Demanding fairness of media
is like demanding it from religion or art?ridiculous, especially where
editorializing and opining are concerned. What needs to be done is to
privatize both of these organizations, totally, and let them fend for
themselves just as bowling alleys or shoes stores must.

No comments: