Government Funding for NPR? George Will v. Cokie Roberts

As House of Representatives Debates NPR Funding, ABC's commentators weigh in.

March 16, 2011, 5:40 PM

March 17, 2011 -- In the wake of an undercover sting by conservative activists that cost two NPR executives their jobs and renewed the debate about public broadcasting in the United States, the House of Representatives will vote today on whether to end funding for NPR. They voted earlier this year to end funding for all public broadcasting. Both measures have run into resistance in the Senate.

Read more about the conservative sting HERE, questions about how it was conducted HERE, and publicly funded broadcasting HERE.

Here are arguments against publicly funded media from conservative columnist and ABC News commentator George Will and for it by ABC News and NPR commentator Cokie Roberts.

George Will - End Funding for NPR

Even when government broadcasting began more than 40 years ago, it was a solution in search of a problem. The government is subsidizing entertainment and journalism. Is there a shortage of either? To all those newspaper editorial writers who support the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, I ask: Should there be a Corporation for Public Newspapers? As regards NPR, I ask: Given that there are about 14,000 radio stations in this country, why is it vital to have one more? NPR supporters and NPR itself say that they are so much better than everyone else. If so, why can they not find market support for what they sell?

The answer, rarely stated but clearly implied, is that the listening public is too dimwitted to appreciate how splendid NPR is. At a time of severe budget difficulties, it is simply preposterous to say that government broadcasting is a necessity. Let me be clear: If government broadcasting were as conservative as I am, I would still favor terminating it. And if the government were running a huge surplus, I would still favor getting government out of the entertainment and journalism business, where it does not belong.

When public television began more than four decades ago, for many viewers it increased their television channels from three choices to four. Even then, it was inappropriate for the government to get involved. In today's 500 channel environment, it is no longer merely inappropriate, it is ludicrous.

Cokie Roberts - Americans Have an Interest in Non-Profit Media:

There is no shortage of journalism, but there is an extreme shortage of good journalism.

We are living in a time when what is happening abroad affects us at home in ways that are very direct and real. Take a look right now. the disaster in Japan is having an effect on our stock market. The civil war in Libya is driving up gas prices, which could derail our economic recovery. The Chinese appetite for energy is affecting our climate and yet major news organizations one after another are shutting down their foreign bureaus for financial reasons.

Not so NPR, which has 17 bureaus abroad and reporters fanning out from them to cover the world and to stay on the story even after it's out of the headlines. While Japan erupts we could hear this morning about the upcoming election in Egypt, now off the radar screen for many news organizations. Because of that thorough coverage of this country and the world, more and more people tune into NPR every quarter that radio listenership is measured – now up to around 35 million listeners a week.

NPR itself receives hardly any funding from the government. Only the satellite service receives direct federal dollars. The rest of the network is funded by foundations, corporations, generous individuals and fees paid by the hundreds of public radio stations that buy NPR programs. Those stations also operate on a mix of funding.

For large stations in urban areas, the dollars from government make up a small percentage of their income, usually about 10 percent or less. But in smaller towns and rural areas – places where the commercial marketplace does not see fit to operate – federal funding makes up as much as 50 percent of the budget. Without that money, upwards of 100 stations would be forced to turn off their transmitters. I don't think that's something the voters in those areas would like very much.

As Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Georgia, said last week, "NPR provides a very valuable service." The Georgia Republican noted "an awful lot of conservatives listen to NPR." Given these tough economic times, Chambliss said, "I think the sacrifice is going to have to be shared by NPR as well as others. But I think total elimination of funding is probably not the wisest thing to do." He's right. NPR provides an invaluable service that Americans want to have continue. Efforts to zero out federal funding are political ploys aimed at satisfying a few conservatives who are unhappy with the facts that compromises have to be made on other issues. And are looking at some symbolic wins.

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