Essay on The Government Should Support Public Television (PBS)

Essay on The Government Should Support Public Television (PBS)

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The Government Should Support Public Television (PBS)


The slogan goes, “If PBS doesn’t do it, who will?” This catch-phrase, which PBS uses in spots to advertise its programming between shows, states the most basic reason that the Public Broadcasting Service is necessary: Many of the shows on PBS would not be successful via commercial broadcast television, and therefore, a viewer-supported, partially-subsidized network of stations is necessary to provide programming that otherwise would not make the airwaves.

In this paper, I will explain why public support is important, but not essential for the Public Broadcasting Service to fulfill its mission to provide alternative programming to the American public. I will show how public broadcasting would exist without the support of the federal government, and then explain why the positive externalities created by public broadcasting lead to market failure and suggest that government support of PBS is in the best interest of society.

In their 1995 attack of public broadcasting, newly-empowered conservative members of Congress argued that were the Public Broadcasting Service to fold due to lack of public subsidies, the private sector would provide same type of programming that PBS has provided. Their reasoning was that a demand for PBS-fare would still exist, so the private sector would supply programming that would meet the unfulfilled demand of former PBS viewers. Other members of the conservative contingent argued that government support amounted to less than 20 percent of the network’s operating budget, so the network could make up the difference or cut back its service in order to survive.

Part of their argument was that many of the programs on PBS are similar to progra...


... middle of paper ...


...ration for Public Broadcasting are therefore necessary to ensure that PBS programming remains at its current level.

If PBS doesn’t do it, who will? Cable, yes, to a limited extent, but PBS will always reach a larger audience than an infinite number of cable networks with PBS-type programming. Without government support of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and ultimately the Public Broadcasting Service itself, PBS would survive. Society, however, would suffer as the loss of one-fifth of the Service’s operating budget leads to cutbacks in programming and ultimately decreased positive external effects from the network. That’s why government intervention--an annual subsidy for PBS from the federal government--is so important: not because the network would disappear, but because it would fail to provide the socially optimal variety and quantity of programming.

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