Over the next few months, there’ll be plenty of debate about the role of the government in funding public broadcasting.
The Trump administration reportedly has the Corporation for Public Broadcasting — and a host of other cultural and arts organizations– targeted for elimination.
There’s certainly a debate to be had over whether the government should provide financial assistance to a segment of the media it regulates and restricts how it can raise revenue. There’s no indication the administration nor Congress is interested in taking those restrictions off, a clear sign that the ultimate goal of politicians is to kill it.
But the New York Times’ media critic, Jim Rutenberg, has a cautionary tale of what can happen with a government that wants to control a message holds the money — self-censorship; newsrooms that pull their punches because of the fear the government will cut the revenue.
When a Texas congressman took to the House floor to complain about the way the media has covered President Trump, a commentator for a San Antonio public TV station took notice.
Rick Casey wrote his commentary. The station’s Facebook page promoted it with a nod to the upcoming broadcast.
And the station’s CEO spiked it just before it was to go on the air.
When I caught up with Mr. Emerson this week he acknowledged making “a mistake” that should not tarnish a career spent mostly in broadcast news, starting in a $1.25-an-hour job as a cameraman. “I had to make a decision in what was about 20 minutes,” he said.
He acknowledged that “clearly we always worry about funding for public television,” but said that wasn’t the “principal reason” for his decision to hold back the commentary. “We have to protect the neutrality of the station — somebody could have looked at it as slander,” he said. The “commentary” label, he said, would take care of it.
Mr. Casey is satisfied with the result. But he acknowledged that it was a close call and that he was uniquely qualified to push back in a way others might not be. “I’m lucky to be in the position of being 70 years old, and not in the position of being 45,” he said, meaning that job security was not the same issue. “There’s no level of heroism here.”
“If you look at what David Brooks has said on the ‘PBS NewsHour’ in his commentary with Mark Shields, he’s been very forceful in his opposition to Trump,” Casey told the San Antonio Express-News. “So that’s part of our brand, but it’s also part of our values. As a practical reality, if the Corporation for Public Broadcasting does lose its funding, I’m too humble to think it’s because of a piece that I did down in San Antonio.”
But the enemy of the American people is censorship, regardless of where the intimidation of an independent media originates.