Rich Tucker

Think of how much things have changed since 1968.

Then, Arnold Schwarzenegger was a newly arrived immigrant bodybuilder. Now he’s governor-elect of California.

Then, Democrat presidential candidates ran on their opposition to the war in Vietnam. Now, Democrat presidential candidates run on their opposition to the war in Iraq.

Then, music fans listened to scratchy LPs. Now, they swap digital music files.

Then, there was government-supported public broadcasting. Now, well, there’s government-supported public broadcasting.

It’s past time for that to change.

Public television stations across the country are struggling to make ends meet. Most have laid off employees. Corporate and foundation support is declining.

The solution is simple: Privatize. Sell the stations to for-profit broadcasters. This is already happening in Orange County, California, where the managers of KOCE plan to sell.
Critics lament this could leave the county without an educational TV outlet. Back in 1968, that might have been true. Then there were only three networks. Viewer choice was extremely limited. A government-supported educational network made sense, to make television less of a “vast wasteland.”

Today, though, there are more television networks then we can count. A new cable station seems to go on the air every month or so. Many of those carry educational programming. People are clearly willing to pay to have the History Channel, A & E and other networks that carry PBS-style documentaries and children’s programming.

So with or without KOCE, viewers in Orange County won’t be uneducated. But even though they won’t have their own PBS station anymore, they’ll still be paying for it. We all are. By 2005, federal taxpayers will shell out $390 million to public broadcasting, a 30 percent increase over five years ago. Many state governments will kick in even more.

This increase is needed because fewer people than ever are donating to PBS stations. Ten years ago, some 5 million viewers made donations. Today, only about 4.3 million do. A recent report by top public television executives noted the fiscal crunch is likely to continue.
“This decline is part of a long-term, slow, downward trend, not a cyclical event,” the report said. “We face a daunting financial future that will demand very difficult choices.”

Rich Tucker

Rich Tucker is a communications professional and a columnist for