For much of my life, I have been a fan of public television. Unlike broadcast and cable television, which exist mostly to sell advertising and appeal to the lowest common denominator, public TV serves the public with (mostly) quality programs that educate, entertain and elevate our minds and hearts. When cable stations emerged in the 1980s many of us thought that they would make public TV obsolete — a notion that cable quickly dispelled as it descended into a trash heap of dumb reality shows. Dolores Sukhdeo, CEO of South Florida PBS stations WPBT and WXEL (my local outlets), put it well when she wrote that “we are a storyteller, a teacher, a theater, a library, and a traveling companion. For the 14th consecutive year, we are the most trusted place for families with children, a thoughtful retreat for adults, a source of reliable, unbiased information, and a place where all of us can continue to learn and grow.” Often public TV falls short of its goals, as when it gives in to the whims of public or private pressure groups, or when it runs thinly-disguised infomercials during its seemingly endless pledge periods. But, all in all, in spite its faults, public TV comes through.
The Donald Trump administration, though only a few months old, has made me nostalgic for the “good old days” of the last Republican administration, that of George W. Bush. Things that alarmed us back then seem quaint compared to the horrors that Trump and his minions now plan for our country. The last time I wrote about public television (2005), Bush was president, and I complained about the fact that public TV, under Bush administration pressure, was cutting down on its LGBT-interest programs. Now I worry that there won’t be any public TV left for me to complain about. On March 16, 2017, Trump sent to Congress a budget proposal that, if passed, would drastically change our government’s priorities. Trump’s budget asks for a $54 billion increase in military spending and $2.6 billion to build his cherished wall across the U.S.-Mexico border — despite the president’s repeated promise that “Mexico will pay for it.” In exchange for building a useless wall and buying military hardware that we do not need, the budget drastically reduces domestic spending and eliminates 62 agencies and programs that help people here and abroad, including environmental programs, Meals on Wheels, the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program and the National Endowment for the Arts. The President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, established under President George W. Bush in 2003, will be abolished, a proposal which led to an op-ed from the former president defending his program.
One of the casualties of Trump’s proposed budget is the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a government agency which receives money from the government to fund public television. The money is no big deal, only $445.5 million a year, barely enough to fund several of Trump’s weekends at Mar-a-Lago. The rest of the public TV money comes from foundations, philanthropies, those notorious pledge periods, advertisements masquerading as “we support public television” testimonials and “contributions from viewers like you (thank you).” Still, CPB money is vital to many public TV stations, especially those in small towns or rural areas where few philanthropists live. Possibly Trump and his cohorts believe that their base does not watch or want public television, though here they might be mistaken.
If you agree that public television — and radio — are worth protecting and supporting, you might start by sending a donation to your local public TV station, and not just during pledge periods. You might also want to take a stand and oppose Trump’s drastic and inhuman budget. Though the cause that Protect My Public Media espouses might not be as vital as those of some of the other resistance groups — and any group that opposes Trump is a resistance group, whether it knows it or not — it is still important to maintain a public service that gives so much to our communities. Visit protectmypublicmedia.org, get involved in their latest campaign, invite your friends and family to protect public media, and tell your own public media story. Tell Congress what public television and radio mean to you and why they should be preserved.