Thursday, May 10, 2012

Does Public Broadcasting Need Your Tote Bag Money?

Public radio and public television make regular pitches for "you, the viewer" or "you, the listener" to chip in.   But do they really need this money?   No, they have the "Bill and Melinda Gates foundation, who believe everyone should lead a happy and productive life.....working for Microsoft."

The other day, I was in Florida, and I turned on the local PBS radio station to listen to Evening Liberal Claptrap.   It has gotten pretty bad, as they hardly ever have any "news" on it anymore - just whiny, "I'm a Victim" type pieces.   The latest is called "Familes" which is an eight-week series on how American Families are struggling to get by, while Fat-Cat Wall Street Bankers light their cigars with hundred dollar bills and pay for kidney transplants using children from third-world countries.   Or something like that.  I turned it off when they started whining and playing the frowny-face music in the background.

Anyway, it was time for the annoying  "Fund drive pledge week" - yet another reason to shut off this propaganda machine.  But what was interesting, is that the young woman broadcasting, let something slip:

"Acme Corporation has promised to match every pledge made during the last four hours, and we have ten minutes left to get those matching dollars!  So call in, like Suzy Liberal did, and help us get those matching dollars!   Thanks again, Suzy, who was one of the many people, oh, wait, I guess the only person, to call in...."

Four hours of fundraising for ONE $20 pledge?  No wonder Acme Corporation was willing to match "dollar for dollar" every pledge phoned in.  I have that much in pocket change.

And then it hit me.  Was this whole "pledge drive" gambit just a con-job?   A window-dressing designed to make it appear that public broadcasting was, well, really PUBLIC?  To make you feel that you are part of the process, when in fact, you are just another set of ears and eyeballs to sell to advertisers?

And the answer of course, is, yes, yes it is.   Which is one reason why they are doing less of these fund-drives and pledge-drives these days.   They don't need your tote-bag money.   They have Bill Gates' money - and money from a whole host of Corporations, foundations, and other people with Millions, if not Billions to spend.

According to one source, at little as 12 percent of revenue comes from individual donations - and 10 percent is spend on fund-raising!

Another way to look at this is that the station spent 10 percent of its budget on fundraising. It received 12 percent of its budget from individual donations. If it trimmed expenses by 2 percent, it could stop asking for money via direct mail, on-air, on the Web, etc.
Whoa.  And the writer is not talking about some podunk PBS station run out of a Florida University, but the granddaddy of them all - WGBH in Boston.

I wrote before about NPR - and how they spend the millions they take in, on executive salaries.   And how, "Public Radio" has devolved into mere syndication of programs from national organizations like NPR and American Public Media.   You pledge to your local station, you are giving money to major syndication chains.   Public Radio and Clear Channel Communications are practically indistinguishable at this point - the only difference being that Clear Channel is also in the billboard business.

Yea, they still do the fund drives, but basically, the money taken in by the fund drives, pays for the fund drives.   In other words, you pledge $20 to your public radio station, you pay $20 to the person taking the pledge over the phone.   Nothing YOU spend goes to pay for programming or electricity for the transmitter.

So, while public radio is allegedly "public" it really has devolved into Corporate-sponsored radio, and in fact, a commercial radio network.   If there is any "local content" you can expect to hear that only late at night, perhaps on limited days of the week.

The rest of the time?  It is Garrison Keillor, Car Talk, and "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me!" and of course, Ira Glass and his refugees from Speech Impediment Class.   Oh, and our good friends at "Performance Today" - turning classical music into a Top-40 playlist for everyone to enjoy.

Is it time to just Privatize Public Broadcasting?  Why not?  They certainly don't need OUR money, and the money they get from the government is, well, de minimis.  The bulk of their funding comes from big Corporations and Foundations, which in turn, is paid to a few big Corporations - the "networks" that produce all the slick commercial content.

I don't know about you, but this isn't what I signed up for.  And I'm still waiting for that damned tote bag!