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1984, PBS, preschool & $400M
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I tend to watch TV is on Saturday nights when I’m vegging out for a few hours watching episodes I’ve memorized of Law & Order SVU or on demand segments of Madam Secretary, Major Crimes, Lethal Weapon, or The Middle.
It’s not exactly highbrow stuff. But then again the only reason I got cable originally was so I could have Comcast high speed Internet.
I do channel surf. By that I mean I go up and down the cable selections thinking I might find something I like. I usually don’t. But it is a good way to catch glimpses of shows like “Catfish” on MTV that help me feel less and less stupid about the awkwardness I had as a freshman asking a girl to dance at a high school sock hop.
Given that I’m probably not a TV expert when it comes to the Public Broadcast System.
We are told by PBS head honcho Paula Kerger that “for about S1.35 a citizen a year, (PBS) provides an extraordinary service.”
Kerger is among those benefitting from Congress’ generosity with tax dollars that are getting a bit nervous as high noon approaches on Friday, Jan. 20, 2017.
Although the hairstyle of Big Bird may resemble that of the next guy in charge of the federal budget that accounts for $400 million or 15 percent of PBS’ annual outlays, unlike Mitt Romney he has never tweeted one way or another about whether federal chicken feed should keep going to Sesame Street.
I’ll admit I’m not a fan of federal funding of PBS.
But I’ll set that aside for a second to weigh an argument Kerger is making. Kerger contends that children’s programming is the most “powerful argument” for public broadcasting. She adds that about half of the children in the United States lack access to preschool.
PBS on Monday rolled out the PBS Kids Channel. It is a 24-hour non-stop channel available on member stations. It is also live-streamed to digital platforms. It is touted as a “free service” aimed at children 2 to 6 years of age.
I’ll forgive PBS for unleashing Barney on unsuspecting adults with his sugary theme song “I Love You” that sticks to your brain cells like frosted flakes saturated with milk and an additional heaping of sugar stick to your teeth. But what they are doing is not free. I’ll give them the production costs but to access this “free service” families have to either pay for cable service, satellite TV, Internet or wireless connections.
If the idea is to provide free programming to those that lack resources and aren’t near free preschool, why not make the $400 million work smarter? Those in need should get more bang for the buck spent and taxpayers should expect results.
So instead of cutting the $400 million as just suggesting it would bring out Big Bird fanatics that claim it would put the oversized canary on the endangered list as the audience supposedly isn’t big enough for a commercial cable channel to pick up, why not spend the money as if we are in the 21st century.
TVs cost money. Cable service costs money. But if the low-income use free phones that they can obtain through the government’s redistribution of income on your monthly wireless bill, why make them have to pay a monthly fee to a cable provider to get PBS?
Why not just stream it live through concerns such as SafeLink? Those that qualify can get a free phone with unlimited talk and text plus 500 MB a month of data.
By going with a smartphone based children’s network the government could provide a free app. And instead of the likes of “Bob the Builder” and “Nature Cat”, Uncle Sam could offer live streaming of real preschool classes.
It would eliminate the expensive PBS infrastructure, slash production costs, doesn’t saddle the low-income with cable TV bills, and lets the real experts — preschool teachers — provide the lessons.
We’ve been told for years that preschool is the effective way to help kids get a leg up on education. They never mentioned 24/7 access to “Nature Cat” and “Bob the Builder” would do the trick as effectively.
If that’s the case, Congress should protect the $400 million for PBS and slash the significantly larger cut of the federal budget that goes to preschool funding.
Most reasonable people would agree that would be an absurd move. But then again it is no more absurd than rationalizing spending $400 million on PBS because its kids programs are a legitimate substitute for preschool programs.
There is an argument that PBS and its programming would not exist without tax dollars. 
Long before Sesame Street however, there was Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood and the National Education Television that did not receive a penny in government support.
They essentially irked their sponsors — primarily the Ford Foundation and the latecomer known as the Corporation for Public Broadcasting created by the federal government  that entered with funding in 1967. The Ford Foundation and CPS did not like hard hitting documentaries NET Journal did on issues such as racism and poverty.
PBS was essentially born because the government didn’t like controversial NET programming
In a way, it’s kind of like the fear founding fathers had of the government starting its own church.
There should be a clean separation of state and broadcasting.
In PBS lingo, it’s time to do a documentary on George Orwell’s “1984” while holding up a mirror.