AEJMC Supports Federal Funding of Public Media

Mar. 22, 2011 | The Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC) encourages the Senate to reject a provision in a House-passed budget bill that would devastate public media and, instead, to protect funding for broadcasting in the public interest.

Last month, House lawmakers voted to eliminate funding to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which distributes federal funds that support operations at 1,300 local public broadcasting stations. While federal funding is just a portion of station budgets (almost 14 percent, on average), it is critical to the ability of those stations to operate and to raise additional funding. Research indicates that local stations hardest hit by these cuts would be those in rural areas, where federal dollars are almost half of some stations’ operating budgets and where there are fewer sources of news for residents.

Objections to federal funding of public media have, in part, been based on the mistaken belief that the government has no obligation to fund the “Fourth Estate.”

The Carnegie Commission, formed in 1965 to examine the role of broadcasting in U.S. democracy, released its report two years later calling for a public broadcasting system that would be available “to all the people of the United States: a system that in its totality will become a new and fundamental institution in American culture” for the “full needs of the American public” could be served.

The AEJMC believes that the need for such a publicly funded system has not diminished in the decades since the Commission’s report. Indeed, as the issues facing Americans become increasingly complex, the need for public broadcasting designed to “help us see America whole, in all its diversity” is greater than ever.

As research also points out, commercial media enterprises have – for most of this country’s history – received federal assistance in the form of discounted postal subsidies and tax breaks, for instance. Yet, Americans trust public media more for relevant, complete news. A recent Roper Poll listed PBS as the nation’s most-trusted institution. In the 2010 poll, 45 percent of respondents said they trust PBS more than any other nationally known organization.

PBS ranked at the top in public trust among every age group, ethnicity, income and education level measured. Second in trust are “courts of law,” which are trusted a great deal by 26 percent.. PBS ranks highest in importance among 58 percent of respondents when compared to commercial broadcasting (43 percent respondents) and cable television (40 percent). A recent report by researchers at the USC Center on Communication Leadership and Policy suggests that increased funding for public broadcasting might be advisable.

The AEJMC also urges lawmakers, journalists and the public to engage in discussion that will move the debate beyond simply whether public broadcasting should or should not be federally funded. As scholars and activists point out, the way public broadcasting is funded – through a process that involves partisan decision-making every budget cycle – needs to be scrutinized so public media can better meets its obligations to democracy.

Information and Resources:

“Public Policy & Funding the News.” Produced by the USC Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership & Policy. See fundingthenews.usc.edu.

“Free Press Denounces House Vote to Zero Out Public Media Funding,” Feb. 19, 2011. See www.freepress.net for release.

“Public Media and Political Independence: Lessons for the Future of Journalism from Around the World,” by Rodney Benson and Matthew Powers, New York University Department of Media, Culture and Communication. Available as a download at SavetheNews.org, a Free Press site.

170 Million Americans for Public Broadcasting, a collaborative site of public radio and television stations and supporters.

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