Advice to NPR: Do Without the Federal Subsidy!

Vivian Schiller, the CEO of National Public Radio in Washington, was forced to resign on Wednesday, following a complicated, farcical media crisis. Hard-line Republicans consider NPR a “liberal” news organization. Most professional journalists respect it as having more integrity than its competitors.

NPR – the radio counterpart to PBS – gets about 2% of its direct funding from the U.S. government, through the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. For NPR’s member stations, however, CPB funding is about 10% of their total, with other federal, state, and local government sources kicking in another 6%.

Gawker is a news magazine/blog based in New York that bills itself as “the source for daily Manhattan media news and gossip.” Gawker’s Hamilton Nolan has this advice for NPR:

“It’s not worth it. As long as NPR takes a single dollar from the U.S. government, it will be forced to appease and cater to Congressional Republicans, who know that NPR is a convenient target in the culture war. And – newsflash – NPR will never be able to appease the Republican Party. It simply won’t happen. The New York Times, America’s finest overall news organization, is hated by Republicans. And Fox News, America’s most fictional newsgathering operation, is beloved by Republicans. Appeasement is not on the horizon, unless NPR plans to become Fox News….

“To argue over whether NPR is ‘liberal’ is to waste everyone’s time. Yes, it’s liberal, and it does great journalism, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. There’s a very good reason why American news organizations have a long tradition of not accepting money from the government: because of exactly what NPR is going through right now.

“NPR has the resources, and the talent, to compete with any news organization in America. But as the events of this week have demonstrated, it doesn’t have the freedom to conduct itself as it sees fit. And it never will, as long as it takes government funding. It doesn’t matter whether NPR is truly hostile to Republican interests; as long as some Republicans perceive it that way – or know that they can score political points back home by doing so – they’ll use NPR as a political football. They don’t want to pay for something they dislike. So don’t make them….

“NPR reportedly believes that ‘up to 100 stations could go dark’ without CPB funding. Really? Is there no re-allocation of funds that could prevent such a massacre? A 10% reduction in funding doesn’t necessarily mean 100 dead stations; it can just as easily mean a 10% budget cut at each station. In 2008, in the midst of the recession, NPR cut its workforce by 7% in a massive round of layoffs. And look: two years later, NPR and its member stations are still here….

“A 10% budget bump isn’t worth having to make sure that your executive team is acceptable to John Boehner’s most conservative colleagues. Get over it. If it means layoffs are necessary, it’s worth it. Set yourself free, NPR. Save the insufferable political song and dance.”


6 responses to “Advice to NPR: Do Without the Federal Subsidy!

  1. Nice in theory. Especially if you live in New York or LA. But there are dozens, even hundreds of stations that provide an essential service in places where the ability to fundraise just isn’t what it should be. Places like Alaska, Puerto Rico, Nebraska, Mississippi. Areas of the country with large native American populations that are so impoverished, you’d think you were in the third world. Public radio (like public education which is also under attack) is a true life line that commercial media simply ignores. Since two thirds of all US public radio stations are licensed to publicly funded colleges and universities, maybe they should fill in the gap. But it’s unlikely. As long as people in America believe that any government money comes with a political price tag, this argument will go on. But as I once told a listener who objected to his tax dollars going to NPR – a station he doesn’t listen to, “Do you also object to your tax dollars going to pave highways on which you don’t drive?” He agreed that it should be possible. Public radio is public policy. Unless of course, one thinks like Mrs. Thatcher that there is no such thing as society.

  2. David Schatzky

    If, in this country, the Harper Government (as it likes to be known) threatened to stop paying for CBC Radio, would there be a huge public outcry? Would the public rally behind the CBC and demand continued subsidies? Or volunteer to pay for it directly? I don’t know. Any hunches? Any hard data??

    • You are very cunning, sir. You mention CBC Radio, knowing very that its only competition is the above-menitoned NPR. No one has declared war on it. No doubt your subtext is: what about CBC Television which, according the Friends of Canadian Television, is very much on Harper’s hitlist and which has many competitors? My fear is that there will not be a groundswell of indignation if indeed Harper cripples CBC Television. The public no longer cares about it the way it did until – say – 1966, the end of This Hour Has Seven Days which was the pinnacle of the CBC’s popularity. I hope the CBC becomes an issue in the coming election.

  3. Carol Kushner

    Have to say when it comes to TV or rather TV news, I’ve jumped the pond and started watching BBC — I find the coverage remarkably good. I started alternating between Al Jazeera and BBC after Japan’s earthquake and during the protests in Egypt and especially Libya. I don’t know what the BBC’s status is re: government funding but I suspect it gets plenty. I do know that Brits used to have to pay for a license to watch TV but I’m unclear whether this is still the case and where this revenue ends up. As for radio — I still say it saves my sanity (Radio 1) despite the groans of despair emanating from my friends who are Radio 2 regulars, or were.