Gov. McDonnell is again proposing cutting all funding for public broadcasting, though this time he wants to eliminate all funding—$2M/year—that the state spends on this public/private partnership. State funding provides about 15% of the budget for most public broadcasters, with that state contribution serving as the kernel from which the stations raise money. Clearly this is not about the money—the return on that investment is enormous, and it’s precisely the sort of government outsourcing that McDonnell adores. No, this is ideological, and his base is going to eat this up. (Some conservatives labor under the impression that NPR has a liberal bias. Anybody who thinks this has either never actually listened to Morning Edition or All Things Considered, or is so far to the right that they don’t know balanced coverage when they see it.) McDonnell’s intentions are made all the more clear by nonsense like this:
McDonnell said in a prepared statement on Wednesday that public broadcasting is a “wonderful resource. … However, in our modern media world there are thousands upon thousands of content providers operating in the free market.”
McDonnell was first elected to the House of Delegates in 1991. He was there for fourteen years, in which time he witnessed the withering of of the capitol press corps. Perhaps he hasn’t visited often since his 2005 election to attorney general, but it’s gotten much worse since then. The place is a ghost town. Everybody is pulling back their coverage…except public broadcasting. They’re actually increasing their coverage of the legislature this year, compensating for the evacuation of the place by commercial media. This contraction is the case throughout the industry, of course—every media outlet is in rough shape, with no sign that things are going to get better. One of the possible outcomes, about which I talked to a bunch of journalists when attending last year’s Society of Professional Journalists’ conference, is that media outlets convert to a non-profit model—actually convert to the public broadcasting model. Point being, McDonnell is either lying or deluding himself if he thinks that the private, free-market approach to media is really working out in the public’s interest on this front.
(On a related note, I’ve been trying to secure a press pass for this year’s General Assembly session, to report on behalf of Richmond Sunlight, but it looks like I’m simply not allowed to. They only give press passes to members of the Virginia Capitol Correspondents Association or, more specifically, those who qualify to be VCCA members. And their requirements specify that one must be a “full-time, paid correspondent…whose primary responsibility is coverage of the Virginia state government and the Virginia General Assembly…employed by a news organization…whose principal business is the daily dissemination of original news of interest to a broad segment of the public, and which has broadcast or published…continuously for 52 weeks.” What business of theirs it is from where I draw my salary, I cannot imagine. For whatever reason, the General Assembly is going along with this. I’m tempted to make a big fuss about this, but I don’t think I have the time or the energy for that just now. The VCCA has established a club with such high requirements that they’re fast running out of members. Ditto, incidentally, for the Virginia Press Association—I’ve been trying to join that for a couple of years now. They won’t have me, either.)
If McDonnell really wants to get public broadcasting to stand on its own, he should insist that they provide most of their budgets themselves. Say, about 85% of their budget. If it’s so great, they ought to be able to get people to just give them money by, say, running pledge drives or something. Yeah, that’d show ’em.