Letters to the Editor


The best scenario for guaranteeing a vibrant, fearless, economically viable public broadcasting system is to get off the government dole entirely ("Surviving the Cut," July 13). It's time to turn things upside down. Time to create a public broadcasting trust. The concept isn't new; The Red Cross and U.S. Olympic Committee both operate off such trusts.

The specter of congressional oversight is hardly conducive to creative excellence. It hasn't worked for the arts, and it's crippling public broadcasting.

Granted, we got into this game late, in a backward manner from the get go. The rest of the world views public broadcasting much differently than we do ' they consider it vital. In every country except the United States, public broadcasting was thriving before commercial broadcasting was even allowed.

Britain created its in 1927, Canada in 1936. Australia built its public broadcast system in 1932. In giving public broadcasting priority, these countries recognized the value of mass media that speaks to their populations as citizens rather than as consumers. We still haven't figured that out.

Today PBS has an audience of approximately 3 percent (or less) of U.S. TV viewers. According to the 1999 McKinney report commissioned by the BBC, public broadcasters in Germany, France, England, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and Spain attract from 33 to 49 percent of their country's viewers. Denmark? Sixty-nine percent.

The study also concluded that the countries with the best public broadcasting operations had something else in common ' independent funding.

According to Citizens for Independent Public Broadcasting (www.cipbonline.org), financing innovative, diverse, entertaining programming for all public TV and radio stations would require a trust endowed with roughly $1 billion a year.

How do you fund it? Individual listeners/viewers, foundations and state governments would provide supplemental resources, but the bulk of the dollars would come from combination of the following: a 5 percent tax on the sale or transfer of commercial broadcast licenses; a 2 percent tax on annual broadcast advertising; a percentage of the expected auction of $100 billion worth of digital broadcast spectrum; and an annual fee for commercial broadcasters' use of the public spectrum. They currently pay nothing.

At the same time, public broadcasters revisit their mission statements to establish criteria necessary to craft the public affairs, cultural and educational programming U.S. citizens, not consumers ' deserve.

It would guarantee that in the future when politicos meet to talk of budgets and media in a free and democratic society, Big Bird would have a seat at the table instead of on it.