Future of PBS remains uncertain

Seaseme Street, PBS, Big Bird

Mitt Romney’s plans to cut funding for Public Service Broadcasting pose a threat to the nations favourite Seaseme Street character, Big Birg. Photo credit: Jesse S

By Sarah Hooper

Public Service Broadcasting has been a declining institution in the United States in recent years due to cable TV and government funding cuts. With Mitt Romney’s proposed plan to further reduce funding for US public broadcaster PBS, it may see an even further exacerbated struggle to survive.

In the first electoral debate on October 3rd, Mitt Romney stated that he planned to reduce the US deficit by cutting PBS by reducing the amount of money America will “borrow from China”. However some Americans are worried about the survival of their Public Service Broadcasting system if Romney goes ahead with his plans.

“Public service broadcasting (PSB) is free from the control of proprietors, markets and advertisers,” said Roman Gerodimos, a media analyst from Bournemouth University.

“While PSBs still have to reach big audiences, the relative freedom from the pressures of profit-making allow them to produce output of higher quality, which has been repeatedly proven to be beneficial to the public’s political knowledge and socialisation.”

PBS is known for its ‘truly unbiased and uniquely in-depth” coverage, according to viewer, Paul Winter of Glastonbury, Connecticut.

One such example is PBS’s news programme ‘NewsHour’, formerly hosted by Jim Lehrer, who moderated the first debate. The programme, recognised for being a trustworthy, informative news platform because of its no-holds barred approach to reporting, has changed in recent years.

‘NewsHour’ is produced by MacNeil/Lehrer Productions, a company that currently has 65% of shares in Liberty Media. If funding is cut, Liberty Media may then pull out MacNeil/Lehrer Productions, drastically affecting the quality of ‘NewsHour’ and the survival of the programme.

Romney’s announcement that he would cut funding for PBS caused quite a stir amongst Americans. His surprising declaration inspired protests such as The Million Muppet March, a demonstration that will take place in Washington D.C. on November 3. Support for the protest has been driven by the creation of memes across social media, as well as the creation of a Twitter hashtag, #millionmuppetmarch.

However, it isn’t just the nostalgic fear of losing Sesame Street (whose character Big Bird has been iconic for this issue) that has troubled some voters.

Without PSB, there would be “a detrimental effect on the healthy functioning of democratic nation states,” said Dr. Einar Thorsen, a media analyst at Bournemouth University. “It would likely stifle public debate, narrow the diversity of points of view reported through mass media, and undermine the watchdog role of existing media organisations.”

Furthermore, some argue that the amount of money the proposed cuts will actually save America is too minimal for its $16 trillion debt.

Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson tweeted that cutting PBS is like ‘deleting text files to make room on your 500Gig hard drive.’

But even if the channel is not forced to close down, the effects can still be great.

“The US does not have a television license, with public service media instead relying on a range of funding streams – including programme sponsorship and donations,” Thorsen said.

A cut to funding will mean a greater need for programme sponsorship and donations.

Paula Kerger, CEO of PBS told CNN, “Big Bird doesn’t get money from the government”. According to the ‘Corporation for Public Broadcasting Operating Budget’ approximately $446 million (about £278 million) goes to Public Broadcasting.

But Kerger told CNN only 15% of this ($66.9M or approximately £42 million) goes to PBS, Kerger

According to Romney, though, even this minimal amount would be cut, if he were running the White House.