Last week the American people got yet another lesson in why their government should not be in the media business. Kenneth Tomlinson, board chairman of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, was grilled by a Senate committee on what political influences are at play in his realm.
Like a good bureaucratic soldier, Tomlinson insisted he’s protecting the pristine world of public broadcasting from the bogey man of political bias.
Baloney. Bias is everywhere — everywhere because human beings have biases, and the people who run PBS are no exception. That includes political biases.
And that essential truth of human nature is why government should stay out of the media business.
Like every government program, though, there’s an entitlement mentality attached to public broadcasting. There are those who insist that only government, properly guided, of course, can provide the media fare that the truly enlightened among us demand and that the pedestrian commercial media fail to offer.
GOP critics in Congress claim PBS's bias is liberal, but that’s not the point. The point, quite simply, is that the media in a free society must be private. They can, as most are, be private for-profit corporations, or they can be private non-profit corporations, which is what PBS should be. And it almost is — 85 percent of it, anyway. But it still depends on the federal government of nearly a half billion dollars a year. Which allows politicians a window through which they can meddle in PBS’s programming.
The millions of Americans who love what PBS has provided over the years should unite and sever ties with government. They should set a goal of making PBS 100 percent private, so never again will they face the humiliation of having to kowtow to grandstanding politicians about the content of their programming.
Over the last few years we have advocated weaning not only public television from the government trough, but also the National Endowment for the Arts and Arizona State University’s State Press, the campus newspaper that has come under administration pressure this past year over a breast-bearing feature on body piercing.
Proponents of free expression find themselves in an untenable position when they rail at government meddling in media that are even partially underwritten by government,
The media, if they are to be true to the mission the Founders envisioned when they penned the First Amendment, must be independent of government.