CPB member describes public media after government subsidies end

Public broadcasting is likely to lose government funding. What will it look like after the subsidy ends?

Howard Husock, a member of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting Board of Directors and an executive at the Manhattan Institute, a supply-side economics and privatization think tank, outlined his vision today in a commentary on The Hill website.

“Public broadcasting commands an exceptionally affluent listener and viewer base—making ‘privatization’ of its support all the more plausible,” he writes. “This, of course, raises the question of whether the tastes of the affluent should be subsidized by taxpayers, many of whom are not affluent—and that fundraising campaigns in a post-subsidy era could be more successful.”

It’s really not much of a question for Husock. He thinks the answer is “no.”

His vision appears to turn local public radio and TV stations into non-NPR and -PBS affiliated stations, in the belief that in this technological area, consumers can get NPR and PBS programming directly from NPR and PBS. And NPR and PBS programs could be funded by underwriting.

In this context, the role of local public broadcasting licensees must change, whether or not federal subsidies continue. The bulk of the CPB appropriation takes the form of “community service grants” to local stations—which, in turn, must use much of the funding—and funds they raise locally—to pay dues to NPR and PBS for the right to air national programs. In a new era in which consumers can bypass the stations, it makes sense for local stations to keep the funds they raise themselves—and to use them to build what the nation needs today: strong producers of local content, especially local journalism. If, as the Washington Post’s motto now puts it, “democracy dies in darkness,” public broadcasters have a role to play in ensuring that won’t happen—especially at the local level.

The end of federal support for public media won’t put an end to the system. Instead, it will call for it to adapt and find its way in a new media era. Revisiting its model five decades after it was established is not too much to ask.

Husock doesn’t have a lot of friends on the CPB board, the pubmedia trade publication Current suggests, especially after his March Washington Post column saying “public media now rarely offers anything that Americans can’t get from for-profit media or that can’t be supported privately.”

He was appointed to the CPB by Barack Obama.

  • Zachary

    Interesting. I’m not quite following exactly what is going on – but I know where he is coming from. I’m a sustaining member of MPR (and founding member of the Current), as well as a member of TPT. I don’t listen to NPR (outside of my drive home ATC, and a few minutes of news in the AM), but the two shows I do listen to (Car Talk and Wait Wait…) I get from the podcast and listen on my ipod at work. I love the Current and listen live when I can.

    Also – because of bad reception in the hole that is the area my house is in, TPT is pretty much out the picture (pun intended). We watch a lot of PBS kids shows around my house, streaming in from other sources.

    This guy is onto something about how people consume public media. Not sure what the solution (if any) is. Not even sure there is a problem. Obviously, I don’t want the quality I expect to go away.

    • Paul

      TPT is trying to solve the caveat of delivering its own productions on the web

      via streaming service. In the era of TV-less homes, having their content on a platform that scales is a good thing.

      With some of the shake ups PBS stations are going through it will be interesting to see the evolution of it all.

  • rosswilliams

    Bob –

    I am puzzled by this. I understood that the decision to buy programming from NPR, PBS or any of the other national producers was made by local stations. Ending federal funding would simply remove one source of money they now use to pay for that programming.

    Its not clear to me if he is proposing prohibiting local stations from buying national programming or what. Or how those programs would be heard. Is he seeing them as purely internet streaming operations? Its not at all clear that they can survive that way and they certainly will not be as accessible as they are now. More important to local stations, those national programs attract audience for the local programming. People tune in to get their NPR fix and get local programming along with it.

  • lindblomeagles

    NPR and PBS, like Medicaid and Medicare, have become pawns in the politics of the country that seems to say every year, the wealthy need a tax break. Additionally, Republicans have decided news MUST BE biased in their favor instead of balanced, fact based, reporting. Yes, a lot of the programming is HIGH BROW programming, but that’s not a bad thing. If HIGH BROW programming leads to shows like Nature, Washington Week, or the American Experience, millions of poor, middle class, and wealthy children and adults benefit from such exposure. But again, the wealthy, who support in droves the Republican Party, are desperate for tax cuts and public ignorance, and we, as a block of voters, seem to be giving into their desperation.

  • Jack

    So someone doesn’t like Big Bird again? Is Newt behind this effort too?