Federal Funding of NPR – The Pro and Con

| August 31, 2012 | 1 Comment

As many of you know, Fred Andrle was host of the popular WOSU radio talk program Open Line for decades.  Although retired from WOSU, he is an independent journalist and has been involved in several special projects for WOSU.  Fred was asked by McClatchy Newspapers to provide an editorial supporting continued federal funding for NPR, while they published an opposing view from a professor in Alabama. Provided here are both views courtesy of McClatchy Newspapers.

Cutting NPR’s Funding would be short-sighted

By Fred Andrle

COLUMBUS, OH — Some conservative members of Congress are seeking to de-fund National Public Radio, but these legislators might want to think twice about that effort. NPR is, believe it or not, a favorite of many conservative listeners. In a survey by the research firm GfK MRI, 28% of the network’s listeners self-identified as conservative or very conservative ( 25% identified middle-of-the-road, and 37% identified liberal). Millions of informed conservatives regularly listen to a network that some critics describe as a service aimed at  a prosperous liberal elite.

Do NPR and public radio serve primarily a liberal elite? For twenty years, I hosted a public affairs call-in show on a public radio station in the American heartland, NPR affiliate WOSU in Columbus, Ohio. Among my listeners and on-air callers: taxi drivers, farmers, retail clerks, construction workers, small business owners, beauticians, bank tellers. Callers articulated political  views across the spectrum.

Some members of congress who seek federal de-funding of NPR point to what they say is the network’s liberal bias in news reporting. I don’t hear it.  I hear a scrupulous attempt to be – may I coin a phrase?– fair and balanced. Conservative talk show host Michael Medved agrees. He told the liberal media watchdog Media Matters that, though NPR doesn’t always succeed,  “I think they make a genuine, constant attempt to try to play it up the middle.”

Does NPR  really need federal money? NPR’s largest source of revenue: membership dues and fees paid by local stations to carry programs like Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Your local public radio station gets federal money which it uses to pay these often substantial costs.

The largest source of federal funds for public radio is the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a non-profit entity created by Congress to fund public broadcasting. But Congress is currently considering legislation that would prohibit your local station from using CPB-allocated dollars to purchase NPR programs, pay dues to NPR, or “ … otherwise support National Public Radio.” The punitive intent of the bill is clear.

More affluent public radio stations could pay for NPR programs from other sources, like listener contributions. But some smaller stations would not have enough of those non-federal funds. They’d have to make a tough choice: buy NPR programming from their limited non-CPB funds, with resultant cutbacks in local programming no longer affordable, or lose popular NPR mainstays like Morning Edition and All Things Considered.

That very same bill, if enacted into law, would cut CPB funding for public broadcasting, both radio and television, by 50% over the next two years. It’s part of a continuing effort by some in Congress to eventually eliminate all funding for CPB.  A recent CPB report to Congress says an end to this federal funding would result in  “ … the closure of significant numbers of public television and radio stations, and substantial cutbacks in services at many remaining stations.” If this happens, listeners in many communities will lose NPR service altogether.

Prohibited from using federal funds to buy NPR programming, could local public radio stations, “go commercial” –  sell commercial time and pay their own way? That same CPB report says commercial activity won’t provide enough money to sustain public radio.  But even if it could, do we listeners – conservative, moderate, and liberal — want a radio service filled with multiple minutes of commercials every hour?

National Public Radio, through local public radio stations, serves listeners across the country, from the largest cities to the smallest rural communities.  This radio service is a national effort in which we participate through our listening, our feedback to stations, and our financial support. I’d say that’s a worthy common endeavor, American to the core. Congress should reject all legislation aimed at eliminating NPR’s federal funding.

(Fred Andrle is an independent journalist and, until his retirement in 2009, was executive producer and host of a daily public affairs radio talk show on WOSU, Columbus, an NPR affiliate licensed to the Ohio State University.)

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NPR caters to affluent liberals; let them subsidize it instead of taxpayers

By Art Carden

 

BIRMINGHAM, Al. — It has never been easier to find out what’s happening in the world, and it’s never been easier to get numerous perspectives on the issues of the day. In light of the information explosion, it isn’t at all clear that subsidies for public broadcasting — like those that go to National Public Radio (NPR) — are necessary or wise.

Today — in contrast to 1970, when NPR was founded — anyone with access to an Internet connection also has access to a virtually unlimited amount of information from a wide variety of sources.  NPR adds little of additional value to the mix. Moreover, there is no reason to believe that NPR wouldn’t get along fine without subsidies.  It has many fans; they could easily pay. As an information source, NPR’s value is questionable.

I agree with thinkers as diverse as the Swiss writer Rolf Dobelli, author of the essay, “Avoid News,” Oxford and Cambridge don C.S. Lewis, author of “The Screwtape Letters” and “The Chronicles of Narnia” and U.S. economist Bryan Caplan, who wrote “The Myth of the Rational Voter,” that keeping up with the daily news is a poor way to learn. In all probability, it will be a while before we know whether what happened yesterday or this morning really matters in the broad sweep of history.   News broadcasts give us but a fleeting snapshot.

Even when there are significant exceptions — like the discovery of the Higgs boson particle, announced July 4 — there already is a thriving, competitive market of qualified people and organizations reporting on it. To illustrate, I Googled “Higgs boson discovered.”  The first page of results included stories from the Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal, New York Times, the UK’s Guardian and Telegraph newspapers , BBC, CBS News, Reuters, and National Geographic among others.  Most Americans would have learned out about this without NPR.

There also are a couple of important facts about NPR that should give us pause.

First, NPR programming, like most media programming, leans left.  UCLA political scientist Tim Groseclose has calculated that NPR’s Morning Edition has about the same degree of liberal bias as Newsweek. There’s a crucial difference between the two news organizations, however:  You can choose not to subscribe to or read Newsweek.  You  can’t choose not to fund NPR.

Forcing people to fund programming with which they disagree — even at very low levels — is not much different than forcing them to help pay my pastor’s salary.  Even if it were only a few pennies, it would still be wrong.

Second, NPR listeners tend to have higher-than-average incomes.  Subsidies are not needed.  If they value NPR, listeners could easily write out checks to cover its costs.  This should only be the first step.  As government subsidies go, NPR is a small fish compared to budgetary whales like the Pentagon and the 2012 farm bill, which the New York Times reports “would cost nearly $1 trillion over the next 10 years.”

As I noted last year for Forbes.com, NPR isn’t much more than a rounding error in the federal budget.  Even if the entire $422 million budget of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting came from tax funds, eliminating it would have reduced the $1.4 trillion 2011 federal deficit by a mere 0.03 percent.  As deficit reduction goes, it’s true that subsidies for public broadcasting are small drops in a vast ocean of unnecessary and unjustified federal spending.  The fact that they are small drops doesn’t change the fact that they are unnecessary and unjustified.

NPR can and should pay its own way.
(Art Carden, is Assistant Professor of Economics at Samford University and research fellow with the Independent Institute, Oakland, CA (www.independent.org).  )

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  • DWIGHT BOBSON

    The premise is faulty. NPR does not depend on federal funds. Local stations depend on federal funds and that’s where federal funds go. Each local station is governed by its own local community and provides programming for its local community per its local board policies and its community advisory boards, based on local needs and interests. Each station chooses to buy, or not buy, programs from individual production companies and producers, for example, American Public Media, Public Media International, NPR, Association of Independents in Public radio, etc. Each station also produces its own programs. Some local stations, mostly in rural and smaller communities, depend on federal funds for up to 50% of their budget. Stations in the larger markets may get less than 5% federal funds. So to cut federal dollars is to prevent the smallest communities the opportunity to have locally controlled public media. Based on the facts, the discussion is very different from the one being presented.