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Resist the Temptation to Torture : Congress should approve public broadcasting funds and be done with it

January 22, 1992

It's too early to tell whether the Corporation for Public Broadcasting will undergo the kind of agonizing disruption inflicted upon the National Endowment for the Arts in the last several years, but the signs aren't good. The latest indication that a major attack from the far right is building came when unnamed Senate Republicans put a hold on a bill to authorize funding for the CPB, apparently because they feel public television has a "liberal bias."

Because no one at this point knows exactly who these senators are, there's only speculation as to what they want. What's clear, however, is that Congress should move ahead with CPB funding for the next 3-year cycle beginning in 1994. Any attempts to extract concessions from the CPB in return for assurances of funding should be spurned.

CPB, authorized in 1967, is a private, nonprofit corporation set up to develop non-commercial radio and TV services. Part of its mandate is to protect public stations--which operate independently with the help of individual CPB grants--from government interference. Sometimes that seems easier said than done, as the many battles over CPB's board membership and funding attest. But, though Presidents and politicians may not like it, part of the job of non-commercial TV and radio is to question the powers that be.

Ideas have been floated over the years to find other ways to finance public broadcasting, perhaps through a designated tax on the sale of TV sets or other electronic products. That might better insulate public stations from political pressures and also diminish the need for corporate underwriting and protracted on-air funding appeals. So far nothing has been done along those lines, but the time has come for a serious discussion of alternate funding.

Meanwhile, public broadcasting has many fans indeed, and they tend to be well-educated and politically vocal. For that reason, we hope, the far right will have a tough fight on its hands if it tries to launch an NEA-style attack on public broadcasting. Congress would be wise not to enter the fray.

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