Saturday, June 25, 2005

Both fan and foe of public broadcasting

Public broadcasting has been a bit of a quandry for me. As a free-market libertarian I chafe at the idea of socialized television and radio. Also, given that I find much of American leftist politics to be soft-headed and backwards, one might expect me to rail against my tax dollars supporting the alleged bias of public media. Indeed, there is much of public media I steer clear of. I've learned that on KQED radio in the San Francisco Bay area, the late nights and much of the weekend are when the lefties are allowed to let it all hang out. Despite that, I actually willingly spend much of my life listening to KQED. I really love listening to American Public Media's "Marketplace" and Public Radio International's "The World." I also find the main NPR news shows (Morning Edition, All Things Considered) to be quite balanced. If it leans any direction, it surely is left. But, on the whole, compared to much of private media, NPR is an exemplar of journalistic quality and balance.

So, as a free-marketeer I ask with such high quality why there can't be a market for such a product. The obvious answer is that there is a market. The bulk of the public broadcasting audience is quite well-heeled. This provides support in two ways that dwarf the government's contribution: donations and ads. Yes, as anyone who consumes public media knows, PBS and NPR are no longer ad-free. They don't call the "brought to you by" announcements ads, but really that's what they are. And because of the well-heeled audience, the advertisers ("sponsors" in public broadcasting parlance) are of the well-paying breed: large multi-national corporations. The talking point response to this argument is that what is really at risk are rural stations, which do depend on government money. But the type of people who consume public broadcasting in rural areas can probably afford to listen to that content on satellite radio anyway.

NPR, I love ya, so I'll donate of my own volition. But please stop forcing me to pay through my taxes.


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