Taxpayers shouldn’t subsidize TV & radio programs

(Denver Post, Mar. 27) “Donor supports program cuts” sounds a bit like “man bites dog” to my ears, and yet I am one of those donors to Colorado Public Radio (CPR) who supports an end to federal funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Enacted in 1967, the Corporation provides roughly 15 percent of the funding for National Public Radio (NPR), state affiliates such as CPR and public television. I applaud the House of Representatives for having the courage to cut this program because it is the fiscally and morally responsible thing to do.

Federal, state and local government indebtedness exceeds the Gross Domestic Product; yet the gravity of this situation is lost on some politicians who continue to press for business as usual, or worse, even more spending. It is as if the ship is sinking and the crew is enthusiastically pumping water onto the deck. If lawmakers want to right the ship they must cut discretionary funding, reform entitlements and balance the budget. Since mandatory spending will be more challenging to reform, lawmakers can act now by eliminating unnecessary discretionary programs.

The Corporation for Public Broadcasting is the very definition of an unnecessary government program. Times have changed since 1967. Back then public television provided a viewing alternative to the handful of existing options. Those were the days when you had to switch the channel by hand and the screen turned to white static late at night. Likewise, news radio was a scarce commodity. On family road trips, we often had a choice between the tinny sounding farmers report and popping in an 8–track cassette. With today’s innumerable cable television channels, FM and AM stations, XM radio and the Internet, no one under 30 will ever know the deprivation we experienced.

Consumers have unprecedented viewing and listening choices which they pay for directly through user fees and indirectly by buying advertized products. Miraculously enough, these programs survive without taxpayer funds. Once weaned from the public’s pocketbook, most public television and radio programs will likewise carry on. Sesame Street, with its millions of young viewers and millions of dollars in Big Bird and Elmo merchandise, will outlive all of us. NPR’s exceptional programming from Morning Addition to All Things Considered to BBC World Service provides in–depth coverage of events and issues heard nowhere else on the dial. While AM radio offers interesting commentary and top–of–the hour news, only NPR provides the long story.

Two years ago I became a contributor to CPR’s outstanding classical station, KVOD. I believe strongly that one should put one’s money where one’s heart is. I reject both the lazy “I gave at the office through my taxes” approach to philanthropy and the idea that those who do not enjoy programs should be forced to pay for them. I love classical music; therefore I buy concert tickets and make donations. I have a right to support this form of music and a right not to support music I do not like. As a taxpayer, however, the government makes that choice for me.

Americans should have the freedom to choose (and pay for) the news and entertainment they want free of coercion. Pulling the plug on the $430 million in taxpayer subsidies for public television and radio is as much a moral imperative in support of freedom as it is a moral imperative in support of fiscal responsibility.

The purpose of government is to protect the life, liberty and pursuit of happiness of its citizens. It is not to subsidize the choices of some citizens on the dime of others. Spending the hard earned money of citizens and obligating the future earnings of their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren through massive government debt to subsidize television and radio programs is antithetical to the purpose of government in a free society.

Krista Kafer is a freelance writer in Littleton and a Centennial Institute Fellow.

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