My Dollars at Waste
Kevin Salwen on Culture
There has been much flap over the past few weeks about PBS and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. First, the network ran into a buzzsaw of criticism over using a lesbian couple on a cartoon, 'Buster.' Then the very talented president, Pat Mitchell, announced her resignation. The two incidents are not related, but both triggered the usual to-and-fro of conservative whining about PBS's leftist leanings and liberal defense of the programming.
Both sides miss the point: PBS has outlived its original usefulness and probably should cease to exist. At the very least, it should change its structure to stop taking tax dollars to fund its operations. Shocking? Yes, but hear me out. Back when PBS was created, in the mid-1960s, commercial television consisted of the three major networks and a handful of local channels in each city. What was on was what some of the most powerful people in the country decided was on -- little choice, little variety.
Fast forward to today: My basic cable package has 68 channels. For an extra few bucks a month, I can get 50 more. The range is extraordinary -- from historical documentaries to music to children's programming to long-form news to interview shows. Oh wait, isn't that what PBS shows?
I know the arguments: PBS airs programs that are unencumbered by ads for sugar cereals and mind-warping toys. (With my PBS tax rebate, I could add TiVO to my TV and block those commercials myself -- if I cared enough. My kids seem to avoid sugar cereals even seeing those ads.) PBS shows programs with depth and perspective. (So do CNN, MSNBC, Discovery, Fox, History Channel, Sundance, etc etc. etc.) PBS doesn't care if a show is commercially viable. (Nonsense, but even if that were true, neither do other networks, often.)
Keep the donation format -- if people want to volunteer their dollars, they can (I give money to NPR, btw). Keep the ads, er, 'sponsors.' Now, stop putting federal dollars into the program, rebate my taxes and let's see what PBS does. Go out of business? If that's market economics, so be it.