One of my biggest pet peeves is PBS television stations and networks constantly dunning us each month for money. Most individuals do not know the history of PBS television, or radio, for that matter. The National Educational Television was started by the Ford Foundation in 1954 for adult education purposes. By 1966, the broadcasting channel had run into political difficulties for its shift toward the more left leaning or liberal world views and by 1967 had morphed into the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. The Public Broadcasting Act begins:
(a) Congressional declaration of policy
The Congress hereby finds and declares that —
(1) it is in the public interest to encourage the growth and development of public radio and television broadcasting, including the use of such media for instructional, educational, and cultural purposes; (2) it is in the public interest to encourage the growth and development of nonbroadcast telecommunications technologies for the delivery of public telecommunications services; (3) expansion and development of public telecommunications and of diversity of its programming depend on freedom, imagination, and initiative on both local and national levels; (4) the encouragement and support of public telecommunications, while matters of importance for private and local development, are also of appropriate and important concern to the federal government; (5) it furthers the general welfare to encourage public telecommunications services which will be responsive to the interests of people both in particular localities and throughout the United States, which will constitute an expression of diversity and excellence, and which will constitute a source of alternative telecommunications services for all the citizens of the nation; (6) it is in the public interest to encourage the development of programming that involves creative risks and that addresses the needs of unserved and underserved audiences, particularly children and minorities; (7) it is necessary and appropriate for the federal government to complement, assist, and support a national policy that will most effectively make public telecommunications services available to all citizens of the United States; (8) public television and radio stations and public telecommunications services constitute valuable local community resources for utilizing electronic media to address national concerns and solve local problems through community programs and outreach programs; (9) it is in the public interest for the federal government to ensure that all citizens of the United States have access to public telecommunications services through all appropriate available telecommunications distribution technologies; and (10) a private corporation should be created to facilitate the development of public telecommunications and to afford maximum protection from extraneous interference and control. (from Wikipedia)
The point of establishing a national public broadcasting service was to insure a balanced approach to content. Unfortunately PBS has become, in the minds of many, far too liberal in its programming and thus in violation of its original charter. The main thrust of the legislation was to continue with its educational programming, something that could be questioned today since it is no longer the University Of The Air it had once been as NET. There are no college courses air for credit now any primary or secondary courses worthy of the name of education. Too many studies have shown that Sesame Street has little benefit as an educational program or course of instruction. Yet each year millions are spent broadcasting this program and many others like it. Indeed, much of the content for PBS can be seen as a make work program for what crudely passes as educational filler bereft of substantial content. But be that as it may, I doubt we will see much change until depression hits and underscores the need for reform.
Instead, I really do not see the need to engage in all the content that is bought from other sources rather than developed in this country. One wonders why there is the obvious bent towards British produced television programming. What first started as buying older British sitcoms has now turned to buying first run British productions and at extremely high prices. I loved the old Dave Allen At Large series, great comedy and far superior to the more commercial Benny Hill Show that aired on one of the three main networks. But not everything British was good. Some of it was downright lousy. But the question becomes, why does PBS need to compete with the networks and the cable channels? I fail to see that was a part of the original charter by Congress. The answer is simply. Those who are the programmers, the managers, and all the other professionals decided that they should be paid more in line with their brothers at the commercial networks. And in order to make sure that their pay is closer to those levels we get dunned every month for pledges and donations. Frankly, if Downtown Abbey had become available next year I am sure that so many of the cultured elite would stand ready to make sure we see it in all it glory and no one would have missed a beat. None of its content is time sensitive and it is, for the most part, a loose historical fiction. In fact, mos of the British television is not time sensitive and can be bought year later at greatly reduced prices. So one wonders why PBS feels obligated to buy expensive content. Its design was never intended to compete with commercial television and yet that is its very actions.
Perhaps it is time to ask whether we really need PBS any more. Given the number of channels on cable and satellite transmissions isn’t PBS just another contender for space according to what people are willing to pay. One of the basic problems with bundled services is that the more popular programing subsidises the junk that most of us would never want to watch nor pay for. Frankly, I think bundling of services should be illegal. Let individuals pay for the content they with to view and let those that cannot attract paying viewers leave the airways. Films that bomb at the box office are rarely ever seen, why should television programming be any different? If the social elite wish to view Downtown Abbey like television programming, let them pay for it. But I, for one, will not be dunned into contributing to programming, which, for the most part, I never watch. Let PBS start broadcasting more true educational content for we shall surely need it for the future. I would rather see The Great Courses broadcast each day on a variety of subjects. We need that type of educational content availability more than we need Downtown Abbey historical fiction at excessively high prices.