Saturday, June 11, 2005

More Oscar The Grouch, Less Grinch.

Given that the US Congress spent essentially a month focusing on really important stuff like the Terry Schiavo case and another deciding whether or not to change the rules so that we could get a tyranny of the majority, now we are getting down the the nitty gritty: depopulating Sesame Street and Mr. Roger's Neighborhood...
A House subcommittee voted yesterday to sharply reduce the federal government's financial support for public broadcasting, including eliminating taxpayer funds that help underwrite such popular children's educational programs as "Sesame Street," "Reading Rainbow," "Arthur" and "Postcards From Buster."

In addition, the subcommittee acted to eliminate within two years all federal money for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting -- which passes federal funds to public broadcasters -- starting with a 25 percent reduction in CPB's budget for next year, from $400 million to $300 million.

In all, the cuts would represent the most drastic cutback of public broadcasting since Congress created the nonprofit CPB in 1967. The CPB funds are particularly important for small TV and radio stations and account for about 15 percent of the public broadcasting industry's total revenue.
If it sounds partisan to say it then let it be: today's GOP really doesn't care for much that is "public" as evidenced by the following dollops of wisdom (insert sarcastic tone here)...
Rep. Ralph Regula (R-Ohio), the subcommittee's chairman, said the cuts had nothing to do with dissatisfaction over public radio or TV programs. "It's pretty simple," he said in an interview. "The thinking was, there's not enough money for everything. There are 'must-do,' 'need-to-do' and 'nice-to-do' programs that we have to pay for. [Public broadcasting] is somewhere between a 'need-to-do' and a 'nice-to-do.' "
Let's eview the facts: 98 percent of America has at least one TV set, most families have more than one and many of us consider it a "must-have" item. And of those of use who were raised in families that wanted us to learn the alphabet and count to ten, Sesame Stree and Zoom were "must-dos". As I have gotten older I often think that the only broadcast (not cable) programming I can watch on a consistent basis are PBS related. Call me an "old man" but I would rather watch a Frontline on the Iraq situation than American Idol. And, sure, PBS has problems... tends to be too white, too middle class, nothing on the channel represents Working Class views and it needs to get a helluva lot more financially secure so I don't have to watch two people stand in front of a phone bank taking bids on a seven day vacation to the Smokey Mountains. The way you do that is by actually funding this channel. Or more public channels.

That's right, I just asked for more. For too long Americans have considere one public station in their market as good enough. But what if I told you that that just about every other first world country in the world would find this laughable, the televiusal equivalent of being happy just to get one ladle of water a day (that you have to drink from a tin can to boot!)? For many of us we believe that we can make the public sphere more bountiful, not less flexible. Take Michale Curtin's suggestion from a recent edition of Flow for example...
Google's pull media technology is popular largely because it addresses at least three noteworthy and enduring aspirations among media audiences. The first is a desire to escape at times from the world of commercial imagery. The second is a longing to create meaningful patterns and linkages in an era of symbolic excess. And the third is a yearning to counteract the imperatives of push media, which seek out audiences in order to corral them within a universe of proprietary content. Such aspirations are also manifested in the popularity of other recent technologies, such as TiVo, DVR, and podcasting, suggesting that audiences value diversity and intelligibility despite U.S. media's current emphasis on synergy and cross-promotion.

Using these audience aspirations as a point of reference, Thomas Streeter and I have recommended four strategies for media reform in the United States.[i] The first calls for an aggressive expansion of non-commercial services to be funded both by the FCC's upcoming auction on spectrum reallocations as well as a modest tax on commercial users of the public airwaves. Instead of engaging in dramatic David-vs.-Goliath struggles over primetime TV content or News Corps market share, it seems more reasonable to work toward the expansion of alternative resources. If our society is to be truly innovative, then we need structural diversity in media, media organized in a variety of ways, not just more and more outlets that are all following the same principle of delivering audiences to advertisers. Is one public television service enough? One community radio station? Or one or two severely underfunded cable access channels? Are reliable, non-commercial Internet resources available regarding such crucial topics as health, environment, and workplace safety? We need to expand the number of non-commercial services wherever possible but we should at the same time emphasize structural innovation: not just more public television or radio, but more kinds of public TV or radio. Why is there nothing like Britain's Channel Four in the US? The terms "commercial" and "public" have become inadequate to describe all the different structural possibilities; we need terms adequate to the task of engendering a new era of experimentation in media.
In other words, when it comes to creating free space away from Corporate imagery and for-profit endeavors, less isn't more... only more is more.


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