First, I want to make it clear that I agree 100 percent that federal spending needs to be reduced. Spending cuts are not only needed, but are critical to ensure our children’s future. I’m not some bleeding heart liberal that thinks we should be throwing money at everything under the sun. I personally vote for candidates, not for parties, and vote for Democrats, Republicans, and independents based on the candidates views, not on party or partisan politics. I’m a moderate, middle-of-the-road kind of guy.
I’m also somewhat biased pertaining to this issue because I work for public television and will certainly admit it. That being said, because I’ve worked for public television for many years, I also understand the public broadcasting system intimately and realize what’s at stake here far beyond just my job. I watched my kids grow up and learn the alphabet and to count with Sesame Street. I appreciated having that safe haven that didn’t try to sell my kids toys and sugar and actually helped them prepare for school. I rely on Lakeland News, Almanac, The News Hour, and Frontline for unbiased news that helps me better understand our community, the region, and the world. I know that countless others share the same story about the important role that public television plays in their lives.
In order to keep both government and big business honest and in-check, citizens need good information. Public television helps provide this information, free of commercial influence and biases. Why is it that some commercial “news” organizations need to tell you they are “fair and balanced” every fifteen minutes? Maybe this marketing hype should tell you something about the organization.
There’s also no question that there are more television viewing choices now than there were when public television was formed many years ago. That being said, how many times have you gone through the entire channel lineup on cable or satellite looking for something worthwhile and would wind up back on public television? In addition, throughout our region, if you want any local television programming, Lakeland Public Television is the only option, despite having as many as a hundred plus channels available via cable or satellite. Lakeland Public Television brings the region local arts and culture, local debates, local public affairs, local cooking, local sports, and even a nightly local newscast. No commercial television entity does this because it’s not profitable in rural Minnesota.Public television isn’t about profit, it’s about serving the public.
I also have no doubt that if federal funding were to be eliminated, in just a few years, Lakeland Public Television would be gone. Public television programming may eventually exist only in highly populated metro areas, but even that could be at risk. All public television stations nationwide pay for PBS programming, which supports programs like the News Hour, Frontline, Nova, Nature, and Sesame Street. Because of the economy over the last several years, PBS is already under tremendous financial pressure. If small stations like Lakeland Public Television shut down across the country, the loss of programming revenue from these stations could push PBS past the financial tipping point, putting the entire national public television system in jeopardy.
I’ve heard some skeptics say: “learn to live with less.” Public broadcasting across the country has lived with less since its inception. Here in the U.S., public broadcasting is funded pennies to the dollar per capita compared to government funding in other countries like Japan, England, Canada, Germany, Australia, and others. In some of these countries, the government provides 100 percent of the funding for a very strong national public broadcasting service. Here in the U.S., on average, federal funding makes up about 15 percent of the funding for public television nationwide. Here at Lakeland Public Television, due to our rural nature, federal funding makes up about 30 percent of our operating budget. What this really means to our region is that, for every $3 we receive in federal funding, Lakeland provides $10 worth of services to area residents supporting local news, local public affairs, local arts and culture, lifelong education, and a safe haven for our kids.
Again, I realize that difficult federal budget cuts need to be made, but targeting and zeroing out funding for public broadcasting would only save Americans about 1/3-cent per day. Surely the programming and services that public broadcasting brings to America is worthy of this modest federal investment.
The bottom line is this: If federal funding for public broadcasting is totally eliminated, then rural America should plan on a future with no local public television and possibly even no national PBS service.
BILL SANFORD is general manager of Lakeland Public Television.