Public Broadcasting Makes us Free

Public broadcasting in the United States is not like state-run television in other countries, where the ruling party often influences the editorial stance and the quality of reporting. In the United States, there is an absolute wall of separation between politicians for elective office and the editorial process that shapes what is produced by public broadcasting.

We are all familiar with the conservative complaint about “liberal media bias”, which stems from a survey of voting habits that found many newspaper reporters were more liberal than the average American voter. There was never any evidence shown, however, that this influenced their reporting. Reporters, as a profession, are duty bound to report fact; it is editorialists, the kind of commentators that rule cable news networks and talk radio, that tend to infuse their “informational programming” with political bias.

There is, also, to the chagrin of many social conservatives, another problem with the “politics” of mainstream media: to many, who long for a world of yesteryear, it is disconcerting that our contemporary world is different in so many ways from what they long for. When media report on these facts, some hardline conservatives view those facts as “biased”, when they are really just the world we live in.

The American democratic quest for justice and equality, for protecting our own freedom by making sure that of others is not eroded or infringed, has made women and minorities more equal before the law and before the social conscience of younger generations, than ever before. Gay and lesbian Americans are now seen first as members of society and later as having a unique quality that puts them in a group subject to habitual marginalization.

These are facts. They do not arise from any media bias, and they are not the result of any journalists voting for Democrats. It’s just the way we, as a free and independent society of democratic republicans, have evolved, in our effort to foster a more just and humane future.

Public broadcasting is in many ways the most unbiased media we have. Editorializing is limited to specific cases regarding specific issues, and whether it’s PBS or NPR, the “editorializing” tends to lay out an historical argument that viewers themselves can interpret. When facts contradict one’s worldview, the informational environment can be a source of great frustration, no doubt, but that doesn’t mean anyone is trying to bias the world for ideological purposes.

In fact, the only time in recent memory when the Corporation for Public Broadcasting saw any attempt at political manipulation, it was with the appointment of a pro-Republican political operative who attempted to alter the programming and content of PBS to promote conservative ideology. There was an ethics inquiry, an investigation and a resignation.

Divisive politics is the only good reason for trying to shut down public broadcasting in the United States, and common-sense independents know a valuable public service when they see one. In many communities, PBS and NPR are the only serious sources of news, information and quality children’s programming, other than the corporate television networks.

Sheltering young children from the intense commercialization of our public space, at least for the early years, almost requires PBS, as no other television format allows for so little commercial content or commentary on the nature of our reality. PBS provides educational programming, including college courses, documentaries about cutting edge science, and some of the most serious, unwavering and prize-winning investigative reporting in the world.

The First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States reads, in part: “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press…” We are all familiar with this ideal, but we don’t often think very hard about how deeply relevant the language of the First Amendment is to the functioning of our democracy.

In order to “de-fund” the Corporation for Public Broadcasting—a project some hardline conservatives seek to carry out in order to further specifically partisan and ideological aims—it would be necessary for Congress to make a law abridging (restricting) one of the only truly independent press outlets in the United States.

This would be an infringement on all Americans’ rights, even those who long for times gone by or to hear only voices under the editorial control of private interest on air. Right now, we get our information from as many or as few sources as we see fit. Right now, we have a committed corps of independent journalists working to get the truth to the American people, their work supported by unconditional funding from the people of the United States, in support of their model of free and independent inquiry and investigation.

Public broadcasting makes us free, helps to shore up our right to good information from reporters not beholden to private interests or to government authority. We cannot allow such a backslide on our First Amendment rights; we cannot allow a politically motivated coup take over such a vital segment of our informational spectrum.

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Originally published February 15, 2011, at IndependentsOfPrinciple.com

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