Public broadcasting deserves life

Carol Cizauskas is a Reno public-radio journalist.

I believe in public broadcasting. Recently, I held my breath as, once again, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting struggled to survive while Congress debated its value. Triumphantly, last week, Congress voted to cancel a proposed $100 million budget cut from CPB’s $400 million total of federal funds.

As a journalist with four years of experience in public and community radio, I know from an insider’s vantage how public broadcasting works. And I know we must fight for the survival of American public broadcasting.

Public radio is vital. It brings us balanced and comprehensive news. Let me give you an example from my experience. Earlier this year, when I was offered an amazing career opportunity to host a local, weekly radio program aired by my favorite political party, a National Public Radio editor warned me that I would no longer be able to file any public-radio stories—even such seemingly apolitical stories as on-the-spot fire reports. To illustrate NPR’s strict journalistic ethics, the editor told me about a reporter freelancing for NPR from Jerusalem who married a PLO official. He said the network dropped her reports because she and her husband used the same car and her husband had a PLO parking sticker in the window. (I chose to continue as a public radio journalist and turned down the political talk show.)

Conservatives often argue that public broadcasting skews left, yet studies show the opposite. If anything, NPR leans more than halfway to the right in the numbers of conservative experts it interviews, think tanks it contacts, and politicians it covers. And if public radio were, indeed, liberal, why would a politically conservative area like Salt Lake City actively support six public radio stations? To me, this shows how even conservatives love “liberal” public broadcasting.

Maybe the most important argument for fighting for the survival of public-radio news lies in the nature of Corporation for Public Broadcast funds. Many Americans live in small towns and sparsely populated states. Often, public stations are the only radio sources of local and national news for locales with relatively little money. Pledge drives alone would provide insufficient funding for these small stations that serve broad audiences. It’s a safe bet that without CPB funding, these stations would go dead and many Americans would lose their opportunity for clear, balanced and informative broadcast news. I would say they would lose their voice.

Greatness, I think, builds from fighting for existence. I don’t see it as a bad thing that periodically we must fight to keep public broadcasting alive. It means it is important, one of those elements that spurs our lives to a higher, more humane level. Last week’s fight is not the first time public broadcasting has been endangered, and I’m sure there are years of battles ahead. I hope there are centuries of battles ahead.