As a child, I considered an aardvark one of my close friends. Arthur and his pals on PBS were as much a part of my daily routine as going to the park or bedtime stories. I learned lots from them, from the spoonful of peanut butter cure for hiccups to how to accept everyone, even bullies and substitute teachers, for who they are.
Now as an 18-year-old, I rarely catch an episode of Arthur, but public broadcasting is still a constant in my life. Though they aren’t as zany as animated animals, the journalists of National Public Radio (NPR) are as dear to me as Arthur or DW ever were. Every day on my way to school, the car radio is tuned to 89.3. I depend on the hosts of Morning Edition, Renee Montagne and Steve Inskeep, to keep me updated on everything from Oscar buzz to the turmoil in Libya.
When I heard that funding cuts were proposed for PBS and NPR, I felt as though those friends were being attacked. On Feb. 11, the House Appropriations Committee proposed defunding the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) which provides 40-50 percent of PBS’s funding and 10 percent of NPR’s funding.
This measure has little chance of clearing the Senate due to the Democratic majority and would no doubt be vetoed by President Obama. Still, the fact that even one body of our government would make this decision is distressing to me. Colorado Republican Representative Doug Lamborn introduced the resolution proposing zeroing out funds for the CPB.
“Congressional Republicans must show the American people that we are serious about cutting spending and reducing the size and scope of the federal government,” Lamborn said in a January press release. “We simply cannot afford to subsidize NPR, or any other organization that is not doing an essential government service.”
After reading further, I found that this isn’t the first time a Republican majority has moved to cut funds to the CPB. In the 1990s, House Republicans led by Speaker Newt Gingrich, attempted to “zero-out” funding for CPB. “They [public broadcasting stations] are simply enclaves of the left using your money to propagandize your children against your values,” Gingrich said in a 1995 Washington Times interview. Gingrich and Lamborn’s arguments are both short-sighted. Both in the ‘90s and now, Republicans taking action against public broadcasting are disregarding the clear benefits of public television and radio.
First, the argument that PBS and NPR both have a liberal bias is just not true. In my listening experience I’ve always heard NPR report both sides of political issues and ask the hard questions of both those with conservative and liberal viewpoints. I’ve heard Melissa Block on “All Things Considered” persistently ask Republican Governor of Mississippi Haley Barbour whether the BP oil spill made him question support of less government regulation. But I’ve also heard Robert Seigel push Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to reflect on why the 2010 Midterm Elections went poorly on the same program. Responsible journalism means asking the hard questions and I’ve consistently heard NPR correspondents always do so, no matter whom they’re interviewing.
Second, the rationale that funding to public broadcasting should be reduced because it’s not essential and other government programs deserve the funds more is short-sighted. It’s true that access to public broadcasting programs isn’t as crucial a need as funding schools or as basic as providing healthcare, but it has long-term benefits for the future of our country that make it well worth the funds.
The children’s programming on PBS all has an educational focus, whether it be reading, history, math or science, while still holding kids’ attention. For years, it has commonly been thought that programs such as “Sesame Street” helped kids develop reading and vocabulary skills and recently, studies have been done that support that belief. For example, according to the education policy magazine Education Week, “Between the Lions,” a reading-focused PBS program hosted by a family of puppet lions living in the New York City Library increases literacy. It was been shown to improve kids’ understanding both of how letters are put together to make words and of the purpose of writing.
And from personal experience, I know that the combined effect of watching reading-oriented shows like “Between the Lions” and having my parents read aloud to me is what’s responsible for me loving and finding comfort in books today. I was lucky to have parents who read to me every day when I was little, but for children without that advantage, PBS programming is there to partially fill that gap. Literacy is essential, both for individuals to be productive adults and for society as a whole. All efforts that can make kids more comfortable with words and apt to read should be applauded, not defunded.
Third, eliminating funding for public broadcasting is a negative shift in our national priorities. When Congress created the CPB in 1968, it said “developing public media is an important objective not only for private and local initiatives but also of appropriate and important concern to the federal government.” That holds true today. The arts should be common ground for all people in a society, and PBS and NPR make that possible through engaging and diverse programming. “This American Life” on NPR tells the sometimes-funny, sometimes-heartbreaking stories of everyday lives and, through those stories, connects people. PBS’s “Nova” explains complex scientific ideas in insightful and relatable terms. NPR’s online series “Tiny Desk Concerts” brings musicians into the cramped, bookshelf-lined offices of NPR with only a mic and their instruments, thus giving listeners the rawest experience of the artists’ work.
Those are just a few of the PBS and NPR programs that teach people about the world, themselves and others. Public broadcasting is our nation’s forum for information, creativity and growth; it shares the events, the struggles and the joys of human experience and should be preserved.