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Is funding public broadcasting really worth it?

Published February 19, 2011 1:01 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

As you may have heard last week, Congress is considering a bill to eliminate federal support for local public broadcasting. To be clear about the impacts, this bill is not about reducing or cutting back support. It is about cutting off funding completely.

If it happens, this would be the death knell of some of Utah's most treasured institutions, such as KUED, KBYU, KUER and hundreds of other public media stations all across America.

All of which raises the question, do we really need to fund public media in this country?

With unequivocal certainly, I say yes. But lest this sound too self-serving or biased given that I am employed by KUED, let me objectively outline my reasoning and argument.

First of all, I acknowledge the very real need to bring the national debt under control. We in public media are not immune to the widespread need to absorb our fair share of reductions. Personally and professionally I understand and advocate fiscal responsibility.

But on the national level, the question about the budget really comes down to some very basic questions about priorities. As in, what do we believe in and value as a country? What do you really lose if the government cuts funding for local public television and radio stations?

Clearly you lose the shows that expanded your mind as a child, the documentaries that opened up new worlds to you as a student, the non-commercialized PBS news programs that keep you informed on world events and cultures, and programs that expose you to the worlds of music, theater, dance and art as an adult. And at the cost of only about $1 per person per year (or less than a single cup of coffee), is it worth the loss?

PBS and its member stations like KUED in Salt Lake City and KBYU in Provo are America's largest classroom, providing educational content that is available to all of America's children, including those who can't attend preschool. Research shows children gain valuable skills through our programs, including measurable improvement in literacy, math, and science. And remember that all of this rich content is broadcast statewide in Utah at no charge to the children and families that need it most.

For many people in Utah, PBS is their only opportunity to see a Broadway show, understand a complex science concept, or have a front-row seat at a popular music concert.

At a time when funding for music and arts within our schools is being cut, PBS is helping to keep the arts alive today and for generations to come by ensuring that the worlds of music, theater, dance and art remain available to all.

Locally, KUED provides similar perspectives on our state and its people through historical documentaries and other public affairs programs. And we bring the best of Utah to the nation through the programs we contribute to PBS. In fact, our show "Christmas with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir" is now the No. 1 holiday entertainment program on PBS.

People in Utah and all across America see a tremendous value in public television and the excellence we provide. A recent Roper study named PBS the most trusted, respected and valued institution among nationally known organizations.

And as testament to our excellence, the Rocky Mountain Regional Emmy Awards recently honored KUED with the most Emmys awarded any public television in our region, and the most Emmys for any Utah television station this year.

Most important, the American people believe in federal funding for public broadcasting: Polls show that Americans rank PBS second only to military defense as an excellent use of their tax dollars. America rightly prides itself as the land of opportunity. We are the nation that encourages people to achieve their full potential. And we should be the country that continues to fund public broadcasting, even in these tough economic times.

Public broadcasting is an essential part of who we are as a country and as a state. So yes, we desperately need a strong and vibrant public broadcasting system. Because only public broadcasting gives everyone in Utah and America access to non-commercialized programing that educates, informs and inspires.

Michael A. Dunn is general manager of KUED Channel 7.