Social Question

jca's avatar

Why should taxpayers foot the bill for PBS?

Asked by jca (27942 points ) November 13th, 2012

First, let me state that I am very pro-PBS, so please don’t jump all over me for asking this question.

Yesterday on FB, I posted a pro-PBS link about Kevin Clash, the Elmo puppeteer. I wrote something like “I saw a documentary about Clash and he is very devoted to Elmo and Sesame Street” or something similar. My Jelly friends who are also my FB friends can go see it. Anyway, one of my FB friends commented and this is what he said:

“I never understood for years why the taxpayers have to foot the bill to run a tv station like PBS. The biggest show Sesame Street is worth 400 million and brings in millions a year in sales, none go back to the taxpayers. Why can’t Sesame Street buy air time say on ABC or CBS like other shows. This is a great program for kids, but other kid shows have to pay for air time. I guess years back educational shows couldnot afford to buy time, but this is a 400 million dollar show. With cable tv there are several shows I think are better than Sesame Street for kids. Maybe time for a change.”

I am not too into politics and I don’t have a good defense for this. What do you suggest I say? The alternative is I don’t say anything, and let the chips fall where they may as far as others commenting.

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16 Answers

JLeslie's avatar

Great Question. The first thing that jumped into my mind when I read your question is whether or not PBS is non-profit. I looked it up and it is. The second question would be, how much money does it take to run a network? I have no idea. I like having a channel like PBS, I would not want it to dissappear, but I think it is reasonable to wonder if it can run without tax money. Your fb friend said Sesame Street brings in millions a year in sales. I thought PBS is commercial free, so how is it bringing in sales? Is it through cable channels buying the programming?

ragingloli's avatar

Because otherwise they would have to resort to advertising or large scale donations, which would have the effect of A: Lowering programme quality due to pandering to the masses for ratings, and B: Self Censorship due to pressure from advertisers and corporate “donators”.
There is a reason why a programme like Top Gear that regularly trashes and badmouths cars can survive and be that successful for so many years: It’s on BBC.

jca's avatar

@JLeslie: Good question about his comment about it bringing in millions in sales. I wonder if he meant that they profit from franchising out toys, i.e. Elmo, Big Bird, etc.

JLeslie's avatar

@ragingloli Top Gear is great. I am pretty sure here in the states there are commercials on during the show. I need to check my DVR.

Seek's avatar

I turned off my television service five years ago. The only shows I watch anymore come from BBC and PBS. Doctor Who, Being Human, Masterpiece… or from subscription-only channels like Showtime (Yay, Dexter!) I love being able to see theatrical productions and live music from my sofa. I’m so thankful for my library card, so I have access to DVDs of the shows I like.

There is something to be said for television programs that don’t rely on appealing to the mindless consumer masses.

I would happily pay a separate tax or fee in order to have TV a’ la’ carte. However, I have no desire to spend over $100 a month for six hundred channels of “reality” shows and American sports.

Top Gear has commercials in the States because we’re stuck with BBC America, which is a cable channel. Unfortunately, we can’t even stream BBC directly through their streaming player. Boo. But then, we don’t pay the telly tax either.

bkcunningham's avatar

I had just finished reading about Kevin Clash being accused of having sex with an underaged boy when I saw your question, @jca.

Do you know the history of how public funding came about for the Center for Public Broadcasting? It is interesting. Maybe the time has come to move on and stop sending public tax dollars to the organization and let it stand on its own. I’m a strong supporter of my local PBS and NPR stations too. I contribute with monies in addition to the tax monies they receive.

marinelife's avatar

PBS does not have the profit motives that commercial television has. Therefore, it can cover subjects and programs that other commercial stations would not.

Most of PBS is not funded by the federal government or the taxpayers.

“About 15 percent of PBS’s budget comes from federal funds.”

ABC News

wundayatta's avatar

I’d like to say, yes. But it seems like conservatives feel they are paying for someone to advocate against them, and that’s not fair. Then again, research shows PBS is more conservative than Fox TV in terms of the number of conservative spokespeople they cover. That’s according to “On the Media.”

You know, I don’t really care. I like PBS. We should fund it publicly as much as possible. And if it isn’t possible, it will be funded privately. In this market, they would have no problem. Indeed, they are having no problem getting all kinds of sponsors. And who knows? Maybe the five and ten second ad model will take over in commercial media, too.

tom_g's avatar

Because commercial television is shit?

Also, like @marinelife points out, a small percentage of their budget comes from federal funds. This is another case of people thinking that the reason they can’t send their kids to college is because “their” money is going to Sesame Street.

sinscriven's avatar

Because it is something that provides an intangible value to society. It has high quality programming BECAUSE it’s publicly funded. It’s not forced to abide by market forces that would dumb down the quality of the programming for mass appeal. It is not at the mercy of investors like a public company would to turn a profit at all costs, the reward is in the quality of the programming itself.

I would just counter with one example: TLC.
TLC used to be owned by NASA and provided free educational programming until it was sold off in the 80s. And in the 90s, Discovery networks bought them out and went full retard.

Same with the History channel. Awesome strong educational programming for a long time until market pressure forced it to go all reality TV, and the rare instance it does do something related to history it’s always something like war porn, or religious speculation like alien jesus.

That’s why it’s so important to preserve a public network dedicated to educating that is not subject to market pressures.

YARNLADY's avatar

Get your facts straight, the government does not foot the bill. A small amount of taxpayer money is dedicated to supporting cultural projects of every kind including PBS.

Over 60% of PBS programs are funded by private donations and grants

glacial's avatar

The government is not responsible for whatever bizarre activities the guy who voices Elmo on one PBS show engages in on his free time, just because they provide 15% of the PBS budget. Whatever happened to personal responsibility? Jeez.

ETpro's avatar

I’m going to say yes simply because I saw how kids excoriated Mitt Romney when he proposed killing Big Bird. Whatever it costs me in taxes is worth escaping all the disapproving stares of our nation’s toddlers and tiny ones.

YARNLADY's avatar

@ETpro Thanks for my laugh of the day.

SecondHandStoke's avatar

Because then they would have to take the “P” out.

SecondHandStoke's avatar

Is Big Bird pre or post op?

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