William Baker, president emeritus of New York's WNET public TV station, has a modest proposal for saving quality journalism in the U.S.: more funding for public broadcasting. He makes the argument in the Oct. 12 issue of The Nation.
Baker's proposal is obviously self-serving, but federal support for public broadcasting in the U.S. is a joke when compared to that of other "mature democracies." Baker says the U.S. spent $480M to support public broadcasting in '07.
The U.K., with 20 percent of America's population, earmarked $5.6B for the BBC in that same year. Germany, a third the size of the U.S., earmarked $11B, Japan, half the size, spent $6.8B, Canada, a tenth, shelled out $898M.
Ireland, with a population smaller than New York City, beat the U.S. on a per-capita basis, spending $296M. Just a small fraction of the $45B earmarked to rescue Citigroup would make a world of difference for public broadcasting and the quest for journalism excellence.
Many will scream at the notion of "socialized media" or Obama controlling the news. That's hogwash. As Baker notes:
"The BBC is hardly Pravda, and Japan and most of Europe, which have enjoyed extremely well-funded public media for decades are not a network of totalitarian states."
A more robust public media would engage America with the rest of the world. The BBC operates 41 permanent foreign bureaus. That's more than CBS, ABC, NBC and PBS combined. A better financed public sector could serve as home to the thousands of print journalists who have been canned by the corporate media.
Baker doesn't view a vibrant public broadcasting system as a threat to the commercial sector. American cable news outlets could still report celebrity puff or stage phony events such as the recent march on Washington or tea party nonsense.
So c'mon, Barack. Once you fix healthcare, energy policy/climate change, and Afghanistan, get to work on bolstering funding for public TV.
You won't be "bailing out the media." You will be assuring the future of quality journalism.