Paul Jacob

When I think about the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, I can't help but think of Pravda, the official newspaper and mouthpiece of the Communist Party back in the days of the Soviet Union.

Now, don't get me wrong. It really isn't any of the similarities in their ideological bent that connects them in my mind. Rather, it is the concept underlying both, the idea that the government ought to be in the news business, the documentary business, or even the entertainment business.

When government is involved in producing or subsidizing news coverage or political and historical documentaries ? even entertainment ? it amounts to state-supported propaganda. And that conjures up Pravda.

But unlike Pravda, the Public Broadcasting Service and National Public Radio are still around. (Well, Pravda is too, in a sense. Boris Yeltsin shut it down as a state-run paper in 1992, but it was reborn, both in print and online ? neither state-owned.) Granted, PBS and NPR are also less state subsidized than they once were, but taxpayers' money is still provided through the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB).

The CPB is supposedly a private corporation, chartered by Congress to help fund PBS and NPR, but it receives tax dollars. That seems to take the "private" out of being private.

Conservatives have long complained about a left-wing bias at PBS and NPR, something CPB's new chairman, Kenneth Y. Tomlinson, is trying to do something about. Mr. Tomlinson is a not socialist (at least not on purpose); he's not even a liberal. He is a conservative.

Tomlinson headed the Voice of America during the Reagan Administration. He was appointed to the board of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting in 2000 by President Clinton, and then named chairman of the board by President Bush in 2003. (The fact that the board members are appointed and promoted by the president is a bit unusual for private corporations, too.)

But Tomlinson has created a bit of a firestorm because he wants more balance from PBS and NPR. That these two networks show a left-wing bias is gospel truth on the right, but remains hotly disputed by those at PBS and NPR. And a poll conducted by CPB in 2003 found that 36 percent of Americans think PBS news coverage of President Bush was "fair and balanced," while 18 percent thought it was not and 46 percent had no opinion. Of course, only 8 percent of Americans watch PBS.


Paul Jacob

Paul Jacob is President of Citizens in Charge Foundation and Citizens in Charge. His daily Common Sense commentary appears on the Web and via e-mail.