February 17, 2012

Chafee Proposes Funding Cuts to RI PBS

Patrick Laverty

Ok, I'm one of the first to admit that the Governor's proposed budget is worth even less than the paper it is written on and it's extremely possible that the Assembly treats this idea similar to the "broadening and lowering" of a year ago.

In Chafee's budget proposal, he suggests cutting the television channel's funding by just under half this year and then eliminating all state funding next year.

First, I'll suggest that it's not a good thing to cut funding for PBS. They do great things, from the obvious like Sesame Street and the old Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood, or Julia Child or America's Test Kitchen. The local station has a great show in "A Lively Experiment." To me, this decision isn't a political football, it's more of a financial necessity. In case someone hasn't noticed, the RI economy isn't all that great. Funding is getting slashed in many different directions. What can be easily argued as more essential services are being cut. So if one of the victims in this situation needs to be Rhode Island's own PBS channel, so be it.

But what about the children, and Sesame Street? I just checked the Cox cable listings and with even the most basic cable package WGBH, Boston's PBS station, is included. So as long as the household has cable TV, PBS will still be available. But what if the house doesn't have cable? Well, here's an idea for you. Don't watch TV! I know, a heretical statement, but children can learn quite a bit without turning on the television. Reading books, trips to the library, and exploration are all great ways to learn.

What about "A Lively Experiment" and other local productions? Will those be lost? Yes, I assume it would and that would be unfortunate. However, with regard to A Lively Experiment, we have other similar shows available now like WPRI's Newsmakers, and WJAR and ABC6 sometimes have similar shows. Plus on RIPR, Ian Donnis and Scott MacKay have the Political Roundtable. So this kind of medium for discussing the issues would not be completely lost.

So while this doesn't seem like a perfect solution but with the state's deficit situation, unfortunately someone has to lose. Maybe the organization can do something to keep themselves afloat without state money, and I hope they can. But if they can't and if the choice is between RI PBS and a homeless child, then sorry, PBS is out of luck.

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All funding to PBS should be cut off Why do we need public televison No one watches it anyway

Posted by: Doug Meisner at February 18, 2012 8:53 AM

The entire Sesame Street DVD collection is available new from $20. I'm sure you can buy the VHS set for $5 at a yard sale somewhere. These TV shows are all available free from the library anyway.

Posted by: Dan at February 18, 2012 10:09 AM

Sesame Street has long been a whipping boy, and for good reason. The show makes so much money it could easily survive without taxpayer assistance.

It gets royalties from all of those Sesame Street toys that are everywhere.

Posted by: Warrington Faust at February 18, 2012 10:55 AM

I can't abide the idea of getting rid of public broadcasting. TV and radio are wastelands for the intellectual (and I use that word in a good way). Instead of directly funding it from the general fund, I'd like to see it paid for via sales of TVs, radios, cable subscriptions, and the broadcast spectrum.

Do you really want the small percent of kids who are going to be watching commercial-free educational material to instead be exposed to the tripe on what cable is calling 'educational' TV these days? America's Zaniest Bathrooms instead of Ken Burns' Baseball? Guys jumping out of helicopters and eating spiders instead of The American Experience?

I'm all for smaller government, I really am, but I'm a believer that some public goods ought to be on the list that government helps with. Viable non-commercial media is on that list.

Posted by: mangeek at February 20, 2012 4:37 PM

Mangeek - The paradox is that the few who care enough to ensure that their kids are watching PBS don't need PBS in the first place because they would have found educational material for their children anyway. The children of parents who don't care aren't going to sit down and watch Sesame Street on their own, they are going to watch Spongebob and get ADHD.

Posted by: Dan at February 21, 2012 10:28 AM

"Do you really want the small percent of kids who are going to be watching commercial-free educational material to instead be exposed to the tripe on what cable is calling 'educational' TV these days?"

Mangeek, I think you missed a vital part of the post. WGBH is available on the lowest tier of cable. So taking away RI PBS will not affect their ability to watch PBS in the least. Boston is still available. No idea why we need our own when a perfectly good one is also available through WGBH.

Posted by: Patrick at February 21, 2012 11:03 AM

"WGBH is available on the lowest tier of cable."

Why on earth would I pay more to watch TV than I do for running water or electricity? Not everyone has cable, and broadcast bandwidth is a public good just as much as the beach is, there needs to be a public right-of-way.

From a larger perspective, I think public media when done properly provides tremendous value for the investment. Compare that to the ridiculous prices the government pays for everything else in this state, we're focusing on a paper cut when while bleeding out from a gunshot wound.

Posted by: mangeek at February 21, 2012 2:51 PM
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