NPR and the Taxpayer

by Stephen Spruiell

Going after public broadcasting has not been a great political issue for Republicans in the past, primarily because the public misunderstands the nature and purpose of taxpayer support for NPR. The editors clarify things today:

NPR’s supporters argue that what it provides is not “media,” but news and journalism that consumers would otherwise be unable to find anywhere. NPR itself does not receive any direct federal funding, but its supporters howl whenever Republicans try to defund the CPB, because 40 percent of NPR’s revenues come from station programming fees, and many of its member stations, especially in rural areas, are dependent on CPB largesse. In this sense, NPR is sort of like Amtrak: Self-sufficient in urban areas where it has lots of listeners but dependent on taxpayer subsidies to broadcast its programming nationwide.

If listeners in Dubuque want NPR content, let them pay for it. We are tired of kicking in contributions so that coastal liberalism may find an audience in Ogallala. NPR offers many fine programs, but it is towering arrogance to imply, as some supporters of public funding do, that residents of Big Sky would be left stranded on an island of ignorance if forced to do without Morning Edition. If it’s really that important to them, they can increase their yearly contributions to Yellowstone Public Radio. If not, why should taxpayers in other parts of the country make up the shortfall?

Republicans seeking to “defund” NPR should carefully note that NPR will continue to exist in many places, and that rural listeners will continue to have access to NPR programming provided that they pitch in to keep their local member stations self-sufficient. This is about the pointless taxpayer subsidization of a couple of big media companies, and about how that subsidy actually takes the form of (yet another) transfer from taxpayers in urban areas to those in rural ones. Not that it will keep Democrats from caricaturing Republicans’ opposition to this transfer, but it is an important point to keep in mind.

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