Congress: Cut the FCC, Not PBS and NPR

According to a recent ABC News story, House Republicans are considering cutting government funding for National Public Radio (NPR) and the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS).

As the annual budget battles begin (see PolicyMic’s budget roundtable here), Republicans are jumping all over these news outlets for their supposed “liberal bias” and, more recently, conservative outrage over NPR’s firing of liberal commentator Juan Williams in October for comments he made about Muslims.

For a libertarian wary of government power, a cut - any cut - is always a good thing. When it comes to anything the government does, the words defund, abolish, and eliminate are all music to my ears.

Because these proposed cuts, however, are coming from the Republicans - a party that has in fact grown the size and scope of the federal government when in power - I am a bit skeptical.

Considering the GOP’s track record of fondness for deficit spending and socialist, big government programs, one begins to think that NPR and PBS are on the chopping block solely because of their left-leaning programming, as fellow PolicyMic contributor Samuel Hamilton notes.

And so what if they feature news and opinions stories from those on the political Left? There were plenty of (justified) complaints from conservatives over the “fairness doctrine.”

And besides, PBS and NPR get very little direct funding from the federal government. Most of their money comes from private donations and support. “Defunding” them would likely have very little effect on programs like “Sesame Street,” since it is obvious that a large number of people support their efforts and voluntarily contribute to them.

NPR and PBS, however, do receive indirect government subsidies. As columnist Gary North points out:

The Federal government under the Roosevelt Administration allocated 88.1 megahertz to 91.9 megahertz to non-profit broadcasting. This spectrum was deliberately removed from visibly commercial use. Radio stations broadcasting in this spectrum may not sell advertising time.

NPR is also heavily featured on most large colleges in America, who are largely funded by taxation and government subsidies. Without these college radio stations, NPR, in its current format, would likely be gone.

And is that such a bad thing? Currently, there is no way to tell if these airwaves are being put to their best use since these multiple subsidies prevent competitive bids from occurring.

Instead of cutting a few percentage points of tax funding from “liberal” public broadcasting (while ignoring the bailouts, corporate welfare, entitlement programs, and a globe-straddling empire that is bleeding us dry), why not get the government entirely out of the radio business?

The larger issue is not whether NPR and PBS lean left, or are funded by taxes, but whether the federal government should have any business forming radio and television stations, controlling the broadcast spectrum, handing out (or removing) licenses, or regulating communications through the Federal Communications Commission.

In short, abolish the cartelizing and top-heavy bureaucratic FCC and truly free the airwaves.

This would require principle, however, something Republicans find highly negotiable. Striking the root, as opposed to trimming the branches of government’s coercive power, may be politically “impractical,” but ever more necessary as our country drowns in debt, vanishing liberties, and a stagnant economy.

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