Broadcasting What’s Important

February 22, 2011 1:08 am0 comments
David Murdter

Since I began driving, passengers in my car have known that if they turn the radio on, they can consistently expect it to be tuned to one station: the local NPR affiliate. Some prefer to blast music when they drive, but not me. Like tens of millions of other Americans, I cruise to the tune of Terry Gross, Neal Conan and Ira Glass.
Sadly, House Republicans don’t seem as enthralled by public radio.
In an attempt to meet their pledge to cut a rather arbitrarily-chosen $100 billion from the budget, Republicans have passed a continuing resolution laden with a number of serious cuts. Relative to the forecasted $1.5 trillion deficit, if $100 billion doesn’t seem like much, that’s because, well, it isn’t. But since these cuts are so heavily concentrated in such a small portion of the budget (“non-security discretionary spending,” or only 12 percent of the overall budget), meeting this pledge has required rather absurd cuts to vital departments, agencies and programs.
One of those just happens to be the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which, under the continuing resolution, loses all of its funding. You read that correctly: The Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which underwrites a majority of public programming, including content syndicated by NPR and PBS, would essentially cease to exist.
Seriously not cool.
I’m well aware that in light of other cuts to a litany of important programs for low-income and at-risk groups — not to mention the EPA and the Department of Education — complaining about the loss of federal funding for public broadcasting seems rather … bourgeois. But I don’t protest the elimination of CPB for fear of having nothing to listen to while enjoying a cup of coffee or driving my Volkswagen (at least not entirely); rather, the loss of public broadcasting would mean the end of one of the last media of informative, compelling and quality news and talk programming. And let’s face it, when it comes to quality broadcast news, we’re in pretty short supply.
Ask most Republican representatives, and they’ll tell you that they only voted to defund CPB reluctantly — that eliminating CPB is part and parcel of some much-needed belt-tightening in Washington. But eliminating CPB altogether is nothing short of politics masquerading as fiscal discipline.
To begin with, Republican efforts to eliminate CPB are nothing new, and previous attempts had little to do with deficit reduction. The last move to defund NPR came in November 2010, after NPR had fired analyst Juan Williams for making insensitive remarks on The Bill O’Reilly Show. To conservatives, the decision proved that NPR has a liberal bias; to the rest of the world, it demonstrated that NPR has a rather serious ombudsman and takes its journalistic ethics and credibility seriously (fancy that). The measure ultimately failed, but Republicans made no secret of their intentions.
The conservative crusade to eliminate CPB and NPR on the grounds of perceived liberal bias is as misinformed as it is misguided. CPB was founded on the principles of balance and objectivity; indeed, they are requirements for organizations receiving CPB grants. These efforts have manifested in their programming: When CPB contracted independent polling experts to assess their balance, only 22 and 26 percent of respondents said they perceived liberal bias in NPR and PBS programming, respectively. Additional polling done by an unrelated party later corroborated these findings, showing that 61 percent of Americans said they trusted NPR news, a higher percentage than any other media outlet. NPR and PBS have shown themselves to be among the most objective news sources available; eliminating their funding on the grounds of bias is a woefully meritless attack.  
Furthermore, in their quest to eliminate NPR, Republicans have mistakenly conflated NPR with CPB. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting receives money directly from the federal government, and then disperses that money in the form of grants. Most of these grants actually go to local stations, who can then elect to purchase NPR material. Indeed, only two percent of NPR’s budget comes from CPB, and that money is often won through competitive grants. No money is directly appropriated for NPR in the federal budget. In sum, defunding CPB doesn’t eliminate NPR from the top down; instead, it would first destroy a network of local public broadcasting stations in communities around the country — especially small and rural stations that rely mostly on CPB grants to stay afloat.
Eliminating CPB does far more damage than its cost could possibly incur. CPB not only funds programming that stands out as refreshingly civil, intellectual and informative, but also makes those programs available to communities that may not otherwise have them. Especially in an age where most news media have devolved into flashy gimmickry, trivial banality or utter absurdity (I’ll resist naming names), we must sustain public broadcasting as a vital means of keeping the public aware and informed.

David Murdter is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He may be reached at dmurdter@cornellsun.com. Murphy’s Lawyer appears alternate Tuesdays this semester.

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