No Fairness Doctrine for PBS
Table of Contents:
These dysfunctional programming and grant-making policies occur inside public broadcasting because of the nature of the system itself. Since conservatives see public broadcasting as an enterprise the federal government shouldn’t be involved in, few conservatives are employed in it. When conservatives do try to advocate some kind of balance in the system, the rest of the system (and liberal sectors of the private media as well) attack them like they are a virus, bent on ruining the system’s potential to liberals as a megaphone for their leaders and causes. Since its programming is often either blandly or blatantly liberal, few conservatives watch and monitor it.
Republican oversight during their time in the House and Senate majority was usually weak, due to concerns about appearing opposed to Big Bird, or opposed to vigorous journalism. Calls to reduce funds for public broadcasting have led to blatant anti-Republican lobbying from PBS and NPR stations. Due to the Democratic majorities now in control of Congress, hopes for more fairness or balance ought to be slight. But this is what a fairer and more balanced system would look like:
1. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting ought to live up to its mandate to monitor content for objectivity and fairness. Adopting a policy of being a "heat shield" from activists and elected representatives suggests that fairness to all players in the political system and all shades of the political spectrum is not in public broadcasting’s basket of values. When activists are loud enough – such as the perceived lack of Hispanic veteran stories in the Ken Burns miniseries The War – the system can still look responsive to public complaints. But the ideological default position of this "private corporation funded by the American people" is that the opinion of the people doesn’t matter and the decision-making of programmers and filmmakers is a private affair.
2. The airwaves of PBS ought to be for all the people, and not solely for exotic and unrealistic crusades against Republican presidents and congressional leaders. A government-funded TV network should be allergic to scolding anchormen calling for the impeachment of presidents. On television and in his personal lectures at radical-left conventions and conferences, Bill Moyers has been a full-throated advocate of using the taxpayer-funded airwaves to destroy conservatism, pledging his "armies of the Lord are up against mighty hosts." PBS, he has charged, needs to take on the private media, who are nothing but "sitting ducks for the war party, for government, and neoconservative propaganda and manipulation." Under that scenario, PBS is not a nonpartisan public-affairs referee, but the center of a partisan and ideological crusade.
3. If PBS wants to serve as a moderator of our presidential debates, they need to serve both parties, not delight over one and urge the political exile of the other. If Tavis Smiley wished to serve as a nonpartisan moderator of presidential debates, he would have either postponed the Republican debate until he could secure commitments from the front-runners, or held the event with a smaller field without all the empty-podium theatrics and a talk-show denunciation tour. High-profile presidential elections are Exhibit A of journalistic fairness or unfairness. PBS "moderators" ought to be more moderate in tone and ideology on both the public and private airwaves.
4. If CPB wants to nurture "independent" film, it ought to fund both left and right, not serve as a political organizing arm for the left. The federal government is endorsing "independent" films by subsidizing them, offering a PBS or ITVS seal of approval to them, making them more likely to be purchased by libraries and school systems – even if some of these films are also circulated and endorsed by Democratic clubs, Planned Parenthood branches, and Sierra Club chapters. CPB ought to make more of an effort like the one they tried with "America at a Crossroads" – reaching out to first-time filmmakers, even if they are conservative. If liberals with activist "day jobs" are encouraged to contribute, the same ought to apply to conservatives. If the government is going to invest in this media enterprise, it ought to invest millions in both sides, and not just the left.