Losing our voices

"Last week, we at the Oswegonian made many phone calls, but one stands out.

"We called Syracuse Congresswoman Ann Marie Buerkle to ask about her ‘yes’ vote on a resolution to defund National Public Radio. The resolution passed the House of Representatives 228-192 and is waiting for further action by the Senate. The president has all but promised a veto.

"When asked why the congresswoman would look to hamstring something as fundamental as NPR and public broadcasting, an aide said that in this time of fiscal crisis, many worthy causes would have to see their government allocations slashed.

"But that’s not the issue; HR 1076 is not about controlling the national debt–not by a long shot. The bill does not ban NPR funding for just this year or in times of deficit; the bill bans federal funding of NPR outright and forever. But the total amount given to NPR by the federal government last year was all of a whopping $5 million. That is a pittance inside of $3.4 trillion budget. In fact, it is less than .01 percent.

"Arguing that you are making headway on the national debt by defunding NPR is like saying that a fat person could experience significant weight loss by eating one less bar peanut tomorrow than he did today.

"Clearly this vote was not about federal belt-tightening. Rather, it was about the uncomfortable feeling GOP members get when the news is reported by anyone to the left of Fox News. It was a content-based vote, illegitimately wrapped in the rhetoric of debts and deficits.

"Now, votes about funding based on the content of the material produced with the money are completely valid and have a long history in Congress (Radio Free Europe, anybody?). That these issues are raised and voted on is completely legitimate.

"But let us have the NPR debate on those terms–that is to say, on the basis of what it really is, a fight about content. The issue is unfairly clouded when conservative parties engage in a bunch of bluster about the national debt. That is not the real debate.

"And doesn’t the American public deserve a media product as good as NPR? Have you turned on a radio lately? Besides the music stations, the state of news and spoken word radio is horrendous.

"Inane chatter and repetitious, near-meaningless sound and fury seem to rule the air. Even if you forsake the Clear Channel empire and its poster boy, Rush Limbaugh, quality does not much improve. Not when the other option is Christian radio with its own peculiar cast of social conservatives, bible-thumpers and faith healers. Then there’s the endless hours of sports blather, only personally useful if you have to play a double-header against the Yankees on Saturday, which we find only very few us actually do. As for objective news radio, it moves much too fast and tells us much too little. While it is by far the best of a bad set of options, news radio stations are only fit for those who want their journalism to feel like a sugar rush.

"Whether Congress is ready to admit it or not, NPR remains the last bastion of quality programming on the radio. Its world-wide focus and smart, clever news reporting make NPR the superior media product of any being transmitted through the air. That means something to the American people, especially when Congress keeps a national monopoly on radio spectrum licenses which they profess to do ‘in the public interest.’

"So we must ask ourselves, is it really in the public interest to defund high-quality public broadcasting because the Republican National Committee cannot let go of a grudge they have held since the 1980s? Absolutely not. And let us not forget that most other first-world nations like the U.S. are way beyond this type of petty purse-string pulling and actively fund their national media.

"We live in a world where our culture is national, perhaps international, so is it not right that we demand a national forum on the radio where our culture can come together in dialogue? NPR is such a thing. The fact that it only costs $5 million just proves it is a good deal. It is time for a new answer, Congresswoman Buerkle.

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