If politicians are sincerely interested in cutting costs at the federal level and balancing the budget they should be willing to start where the choices are easy. Plenty of opportunities exist for legislators to cut budget dollars where the end recipient could reasonably replace the lost money by their own means. If congressional leaders are unwilling to cut where it is easy to do so, how will they ever make tough decisions when they must cut where they do not want to?
One such example that congress should cut funding to is the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, or CPB. The CPB receives federal money which it then disperses to public radio and television stations, most notably Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) and National Public Radio (NPR). The money lost from public funding could likely be recaptured – if not exceeded – by implementing a market-driven approach to raising capital.
Cost to the US TaxpayersFederal funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting increased from $250 million in 1992 to $350 million in 2002. It has since increased to $450 million for fiscal year 2012. At the current rate of funding, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting would take in between $5-6 billion from taxpayers over the next decade. While the figure is not huge in terms of the overall budget and spending crisis, it’s just a small piece of the entire pie that could be cut.
CPB Could Replace Their FundingBut would the CPB be able to replace their funding? This one is simple. Outfits such as PBS would run in the same way that most other television networks raise capital and start to run advertisements. Given the success of their programming, raising dollars in this capacity should not be difficult. On their website, PBS has a page dedicated to noting their successes and brags about their large audiences. Not only does PBS score big in the children’s market, but they have huge hits during primetime as well. They note:
“PBS' primetime audience is significantly larger than many commercial channels, including Bravo (PBS' audience is 104% larger), TLC (75%), Discovery Channel (70%), HGTV (58%), HBO (54%), A&E (36%) and History Channel (6%). In addition, PBS' primetime rating for news and public affairs programming is 60% higher than that of CNN.”
Given the large audience of PBS and their recent attempts to bring new and broad-appeal entertainment to their stations, it would probably not be difficult for them to establish a solid advertising base.
Sesame Street Gets CommercialsThat children would have to endure the tortures of television commercials is no reason to cost the taxpayers billions of dollars every decade. The argument that public broadcasting shows shouldn’t be “commercialized” is pretty bizarre anyway. After all, Sesame Street is one of the most commercialized products in the country and the product portfolio includes countless DVD’s, toys, clothing apparel, books, and even theme parks. Outside of the network, the Sesame Street brand is sold by many of the business who would undoubtedly love to purchase advertising on their network.
Current ObstaclesThe first obstacle standing in the way of the move to defund public broadcasting is a law that forbids them from accepting advertising dollars. While the court system recently struck down as unconstitutional the ban on political ads, the ban on corporate ads remains in effect. Since conservatives do not seek to cripple the public broadcasting networks, this law would need to be repealed.
The second obstacle is Democratic members of congress and outside special interests who oppose any effort to cut or eliminate public funding for broadcasting. Unfortunately, the concepts of self-sufficiency by way of a pro-growth, capitalistic business model are not acceptable even when easily obtainable.
Conservatives Leading the BattleUS Senator Jim DeMint, a tea party favorite, has been a leading advocate for defunding the CPB and once penned an article on the “Muppet Lobby.” More recently, 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney has made eliminating funding for the CPB, along with the elimination of many other non-essential subsidies, a part of his economic plan for restoring fiscal sanity to the US budget.
Why All the Fuss?While many conservatives believe that public broadcasting stations are biased against their viewpoints, and they are not necessarily wrong, the battle of cutting off funding should not be based on politics. Instead, it should be based on what makes sound economic sense for the country and for the future of public broadcasting. In reality, public broadcasting would survive, and possibly thrive, by using a model that values self-sufficiency over hand-outs and freebies. They might not even have to run those money-raising marathons all the time.
More importantly, when an entity is capable of being independent and self-sufficient they should try to be. As a group of networks that pride themselves on being educational and informational, what better message exists than that of self-sufficiency in an era that so desperately needs it? Public broadcasting should not have to be forced into being self-sustaining, it should want to be.