Public broadcasting outlets: abolish them?
Arguably, journalism began with a government organ: the Roman Senate Journal (Acta Diurna Senatus Romani).
These “Daily Doings” were the minutes of open sessions of the Senate of
Rome. First to publish these was Julius Caesar, in his first term as
senior consul. Today’s Cable/Satellite Public Affairs Networks descend,
at least in spirit, from the Roman Senate Journal. The reason: they
carry the same kind of content. (Had they existed in ancient Rome, they
would have set up cameras inside the Curia of the Senate, and detailed a
permanent crew to stick as close to Julius Caesar as his lictors and
clients normally did.)
Whenever government (usually royal) presses and independent presses
coexisted, they were at odds. The most tyrannical government either did
not allow private presses, or would tell them what they may or may not
print. That is why James Madison, in framing a Bill of Rights for the
Constitution, wrote in part:
Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom…of the press.
But Congress has made such laws. It created the Federal Communications Commission, one of several quasi-legislative and quasi-judicial
agencies. Under its first Chief Commissioner, Newton N. Minow, it set
up the Fairness Doctrine. Under it, no one could say anything for public
broadcast without giving “equal time” to others to respond. As a
result, no radio or television station would show anything
“controversial.” The “equal time” might be dead time, that no advertiser would sponsor. So for decades, the most common radio broadcast format was popular music.
Then President Ronald W. Reagan named several Commissioners who abolished the Fairness Doctrine. Now a station could offer talk,
however controversial, without worrying about “equal time.” Rush
Limbaugh was the first of many talk-show hosts who built their own
networks to broadcast their voices in hundreds of markets.
But the Corporation for Public Broadcasting still exists. It
funds two national networks: National Public Radio, and the Public
Broadcasting Service (formerly National Educational Television).
Technically, the government does not own the CPB. But it subsidizes it, as much as 450 million dollars a year.
The Simpson-Bowles Deficit Reduction Commission recommended defunding the CPB in their report. Government critics still remembered this a year later. But in the excitement of the mid-term election campaign, everyone forgot about that recommendation. Part of the reason is that the putative President disregarded the Simpson-Bowles report. Now Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) and Representative Doug Lamborn
(R-CO) have proposed bills, each in his own chamber of Congress, to
defund the CPB and its subsidiaries. The Media Research Center has taken up their cause.
CPB. Sponsorship and ownership are only two different degrees of
control. And that control pays dividends. The two organs that CPB funds
typically produce programs that give “The Party Line” from the government.
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