PBS is blowing it, and their decision not to air a documentary on the Koch brothers is pretty horrifying proof of it.
But it wasn't always this way. On November 7, 1967, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law the Public Broadcasting Act.
The act set up public broadcasting in the United States, by establishing the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which led to the creation of the Public Broadcasting Service, or PBS, and National Public Radio.
After signing the act into law, Johnson said that, “It announces to the world that our Nation wants more than just material wealth; our Nation wants more than a 'chicken in every pot.' We in America have an appetite for excellence, too. While we work every day to produce new goods and to create new wealth, we want most of all to enrich man's spirit. That is the purpose of this act.”
The Public Broadcasting Act of 1967 states that, “It is in the public interest to encourage the growth and development of public radio and television broadcasting, including the use of such media for instructional, educational, and cultural purposes… it is necessary and appropriate for the Federal Government to complement, assist, and support a national policy that will most effectively make public telecommunications services available to all citizens of the United States.”
When public broadcasting in America was first established, the intent was that Congress would provide funding to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which would in turn divide that funding up among the various public television and radio stations across the country.
This worked great for years.
The Public Broadcasting System and National Public Radio brought educational programming, and independent news and political analysis to millions of Americans.
But, with the onset of “Reaganomics” 33 years ago, federal funding to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting has been slashed.
As a result, public broadcasting institutions now rely more and more on corporate and billionaire cash to operate, which is probably why PBS and NPR now filter what they play on their airwaves, so that they don’t anger their wealthy backers.
This is where the documentary “Citizen Koch” comes in.
“Citizen Koch” is a documentary about money and politics, focusing heavily on the uprising that took place in Wisconsin in 2011 and 2012.
It talks about how the Citizens United decision paved the way for secretive political spending by major players, including the Koch Brothers.
As Brendan Fischer over at the Center for Media and Democracy’s PRWatch points out, the documentary was originally supposed to air on PBS stations nationwide, but its funding was abruptly cut off when, it appears, David Koch was offended.
But why would PBS care if David Koch didn’t like one of their documentaries?
Because, according to Jane Mayer of the New Yorker, David Koch has donated upwards of $23 million to public television. And when you donate $23 million dollars to public television, you get more than just a tote bag or a coffee mug – you get to dictate the on-air programming.
This is the kind of influence and control that we see in mainstream media today too.
Thanks to the giant transnational corporations that own them, mainstream media outlets tailor their programming to appease their corporate backers.
We can't do anything about the big corporations that own our so-called “mainstream” media, but Public Broadcasting is still, at least in part, both legally and morally a part of our commons.
It’s time to take back our public airwaves, and cut-off the corporate and billionaire control over them, so that David Koch and his buddies don’t get to choose what you watch on TV.
And the only way to do that is to fully fund public radio and television.
Call your members of Congress, and tell them to protect funding to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, so that it can pick back up its work to “enrich man’s spirit.”