CPB member describes public media after government subsidies end

Public broadcasting is likely to lose government funding. What will it look like after the subsidy ends?

Howard Husock, a member of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting Board of Directors and an executive at the Manhattan Institute, a supply-side economics and privatization think tank, outlined his vision today in a commentary on The Hill website.

“Public broadcasting commands an exceptionally affluent listener and viewer base—making ‘privatization’ of its support all the more plausible,” he writes. “This, of course, raises the question of whether the tastes of the affluent should be subsidized by taxpayers, many of whom are not affluent—and that fundraising campaigns in a post-subsidy era could be more successful.”

It’s really not much of a question for Husock. He thinks the answer is “no.”

His vision appears to turn local public radio and TV stations into non-NPR and -PBS affiliated stations, in the belief that in this technological area, consumers can get NPR and PBS programming directly from NPR and PBS. And NPR and PBS programs could be funded by underwriting.

In this context, the role of local public broadcasting licensees must change, whether or not federal subsidies continue. The bulk of the CPB appropriation takes the form of “community service grants” to local stations—which, in turn, must use much of the funding—and funds they raise locally—to pay dues to NPR and PBS for the right to air national programs. In a new era in which consumers can bypass the stations, it makes sense for local stations to keep the funds they raise themselves—and to use them to build what the nation needs today: strong producers of local content, especially local journalism. If, as the Washington Post’s motto now puts it, “democracy dies in darkness,” public broadcasters have a role to play in ensuring that won’t happen—especially at the local level.

The end of federal support for public media won’t put an end to the system. Instead, it will call for it to adapt and find its way in a new media era. Revisiting its model five decades after it was established is not too much to ask.

Husock doesn’t have a lot of friends on the CPB board, the pubmedia trade publication Current suggests, especially after his March Washington Post column saying “public media now rarely offers anything that Americans can’t get from for-profit media or that can’t be supported privately.”

He was appointed to the CPB by Barack Obama.