Should Congress Stop Funding PBS and NPR?

John Berthoud ALEXANDRIA, Va. - For years, the government-owned Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) and its affiliates, National Public Radio (NPR) and the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), have been the recipients of large public handouts.

Tax dollars from wealthy, middle-income, and lower-income Americans have gone to subsidize programming whose audience is disproportionately upper-income.

The time has come to end the gravy train of taxpayer dollars.

When CPB was created in 1967 - before the Internet, before satellite television, before VCRs or DVDs, before cable TV with hundreds of channels - a stronger case could be made that there was a public benefit to subsidize other voices and programming. Now, with the media explosion of the past quarter century, there is little justification left for public subsidies.

Why continue to underwrite Julia Child and Emeril Lagasse - especially when viewers can watch the Food Network, where the latter often appears?

Why subsidize history programming on PBS when viewers have the History Channel or can rent history documentaries at their local video store?

Along with all the stations on free radio, listeners can tune in over the Internet to hundreds of stations all over the world. And for less than $10 a month, listeners can receive the 100 channels of XM Radio in their cars and homes.

Further, while PBS and NPR have perhaps made some improvement in recent years, they still often reveal a substantial leftward bias.

In discussing NPR, Richard Rahn observes that the public subsidies and leftward tilt are related events: "NPR will never be fair and balanced. Because it depends on government, it will always support government spending over the rights and needs of taxpayers. It attracts a staff that is hostile to the private sector, and that loves government."

PBS and NPR have proven quite capable of generating healthy cash flows. Successful PBS children's programming has produced tremendous revenues.

For example, the show "Dragon Tales" - which had received over $4 million in federal subsidies - now brings in buckets of cash through sales of books, DVDs, CDs, and other items.

But beyond great success in marketing, PBS and NPR get generous support "from viewers like you." Most recently, Joan Kroc, the widow of McDonald's founder Ray Kroc, gave the staggering sum of $200 million to NPR. Surely, with this massive new amount in hand, NPR is more than capable of completely weaning itself from taxpayer dollars.

Berthoud is president of the National Taxpayers Union (, a 350,000-member organization dedicated to lower taxes and less wasteful government.

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