MPB radio and TV told to prepare to go it alone
Let’s hope not.
Tucked into Section 12 of House Bill 1593 was a directive to Mississippi Public Broadcasting: “… Initiate a planning process to transition from receiving any state general funds beginning in Fiscal Year 2022.”
What a nutty, nutty, nutty idea.
As adjournment neared, the conference report on MPB’s $12 million total appropriation for the coming year passed the House 89-25 and the Senate 36-16.
One could hope that most lawmakers simply were not aware of Section 12 and thought the bill was routine. Sadly, that isn’t likely. The leadership knew. They think that public radio and television in America are liberal, and the L-word is all it takes to get pushed into the leadership’s budgetary ditch.
It’s simply amazing (or disgusting) that officials who spend so much time bloviating about how dedicated they are to public education and public safety see a statewide radio and television network that also has a solid presence on the internet — 100 percent devoted to public education and public safety — as not worth the tiniest fraction of a $6.1 billion budget.
It’s amazing how fluid a sense of right and wrong can be.
To the enemies of public broadcasting, journalists were doing their civic duty in relentless reporting on President Clinton’s history of womanizing and predation. His persistent denials were ignored and the truth, as tends to happen, was revealed. The same journalists (maybe a generation removed) investigate the same type of allegations regarding the current president, and it’s because we are enemies of America.
But enough of that. The argument that absolutely takes the cake is, “There’s nothing in the Constitution that requires the government to fund television.”
True. So, let’s make a list. There’s nothing in the Constitution that requires government to set speed limits, require labels on poison, test and certify medicines or provide airports. There’s nothing in the Constitution that requires water companies to certify purity, that defines crimes or establishes prisons or says churches and charities are tax exempt.
Government is merely instructed by the Constitution to protect the people from enemies and, otherwise, to be helpful where appropriate.
Katrina provided the test of tests for Mississippi Public Broadcasting. The true test came after the storm. Commercial media was reporting events, valiantly in many cases. MPB was doing more by airing fast, factual and life-saving information to people about where to go, how to receive help all day and all night for more than a week.
Public broadcasting is more than Big Bird, Bert and Ernie. Enriching children’s programming is provided to the houses on Country Club Drive and, importantly, the day care centers so many Mississippi children attend because all the adults in their lives have jobs.
Commercial broadcasters must provide what audiences and advertises want. That’s how they stay viable. Public broadcasters provide what people need. Where else can a family in this most rural of states have a chance — whether they use it or not — to explore Yellowstone, to hear a discussion of a Supreme Court decision or listen to world-class musicians?
Congress, to some degree, and Mississippi lawmakers, to a larger degree, have always viewed the arts as optional. Somehow or another, they think it’s important to provide parks and preserves for mental relaxation (also not required by Constitution), but feel it’s somebody else’s job to provide mental stimulation.
Granted, news and feature reporting on public broadcasting is sometimes slightly left of center. But as commercial outlets more toward the poles of political ideology, isn’t is smart to keep people on the air who at least strive for balance?
Not according to the leadership in Jackson. They consider state money their personal trove, and that broadcasts encouraging people to think for themselves is dangerous.
It was really a smart move when the Legislature first created the Mississippi Authority for Public Television in 1969, becoming one of the last states to do so. MPB has a record of doing more with less — winning national awards — from its inception.
Now, Mississippi legislators want MPB to rely totally on federal and private funding. That’s the source of most of their operational dollars. Other “red” states are doing the same. But to bow out would be wrong. There’s nothing — nothing — that provides as much real and intangible value — to the people of the state for as little money. If the way onward and upward for the state’s people — and its economy — is a better educated populace, then hating on MPB in an attempt to silence its voice is, in truth, nuts.
Charlie Mitchell is a Mississippi journalist. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.