A Conversation on the Role of Public Broadcasting, Part 1

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Funding the Publics

In light of the issues of politics and funding around the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, commentators Bill Schubart and Ken Squier discuss the topic in a two-part conversation. Schubart is a member of the VPR Board of Directors and CEO of the media services company, Resolution. Squier is president of Radio Ver- mont, a group of commercial radio stations in Vermont.

In Part One, “Funding the Publics”, Ken Squier and Bill Schubart discuss public broadcasting’s educational role, its funding meth- ods and the possibility of political influence on public radio and public television.

(To hear the commentary, click on the “Listen” icon.)

Ken Squier: In a democracy with a capitalistic system, is it right that we have this form of radio which I thought was there to fill in the gaps that, even with the business of studying your community in commercial radio, can’t be fulfilled in a 24-hour day with so many minutes in an hour? And, instead…and I’ll give you a good example, we started a classical station 24/7 and thought we were public radio’s ally. And so, when I came to public radio and said, “I want to buy time,” (which I’ve done on public television, inciden- tally) to announce that we’ve done this because the sense was public radio in Vermont wanted to do more talk programming. Well, here’s an alternative, but it’s still in the interest of the arts. And I was turned down from giving money to public radio because I was a competitor. Oops, hold on, Bill. If I’m a competitor, then that means you’re on my side of the table as a commercial station. And, if I’m a competitor, I want my tax-free situation and I want money from my senators.

Bill Schubart: I do understand your concern and I think you have served the public extremely well in radio. But public broadcasting clearly has a role on the dial. It is not the dominant competitor necessarily. Its role is to educate – to educate both in terms of information, in terms of culture, to provide a diversity of views, which commercial radio no longer does, and it’s no longer held accountable for that. It has become a money machine.

Ken Squier: Bill, you’re saying what public radio “should be”, and we both know there are no “shoulds”. And that’s where my prob- lem is with what public broadcasting has allowed itself to become. Because there is a need…there is no question.

Bill Schubart: Do you support the cutting back of funds to CPB? Do you think it’s a good idea?

Ken Squier: I think that the idea that government, whether you’re liberal or conservative, has its own voice and can control things is wrong, and it has to stop. I think you can work harder to get funds and the government should be out of it, and I know you don’t want to hear that, but you’ve got to be one thing or the other. I don’t mind having you as a competitor – you’d be a darn good one – but I think that this combination of things is wrong and, no matter which government is in command of the two that we currently have, I don’t see that as any different, except it’ll be the liberal side the next time, and the conservatives will squeal and yell as the liberals are now with Bill Moyers being taken off nationally and Amy Good- man not allowed on Vermont Public Radio.

Bill Schubart: I think the real question, Ken, is: Is this cut in funding a punitive signal intended to signal to PBS and to NPR and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting that the news as they present it is not to the liking of the current conservative administra- tion, or is it step one in eliminating all funding to public broadcast- ing? I mean, is this a warning or is this the beginning of the end?

Ken Squier: Is it a slap on the wrist or the guillotine?

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