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Defend or Defund? Advocacy Ramps up as House Nixes Pubmedia Budget

Public media proponents gathered further steam as members of the House worked their way up to a February 19 vote which zeroed out funding for public broadcasting. Last week I posted an analysis of rising arguments. Here are some of this week's highlights:


  • Collaborations for advocacy: On February 15, NPR and the Association of Public Television Stations announced that they had formed the Public Media Association (PMA), a joint initiative designed to help stations build local support. The PMA builds upon the efforts of the 170 Million Americans campaign, a partnership of 400+ public radio stations aiming to mobilize supporters via social media and online petitions to Congress. 

    Public Media By the Numbers
  • Celebrities (real and imagined) for public media: Reading from a familiar playbook, Elmo, Arthur and Big Bird showed up on the Hill to plead public broadcasting's case. It's not so clear how effective this gambit is. Jim DeMint (R-South Carolina) took it as an opportunity to argue exactly why he thinks public broadcasting should no longer be subsidized, while the conservative Heritage Foundation urged Elmo to "get a real job." And as an audio piece from Remix Radio's Roman Mars points out, times have changed since Mr. Rogers made his moving 1969 pitch for public broadcasting before Congress. Nonetheless, other familiar public broadcasting figures—including Rick Steves and Ken Burns—have begun lining up to defend the service. 

  • Public media as a site of diverse perspectives: Posts by journalist Farai Chideya, and National Black Programming Consortium board member Eric Easter make the case that public broadcasting offers some of the only spaces on the dial for independent voices.

    Chideya suggests that it's time to reframe the argument: "We can talk all we want about saving NPR and PBS, but really what we are saving is our own access to information and community." Easter notes, "As usual, the hardest-hit victims won't be PBS or NPR; they'll be the people on the ground -- minority and independent filmmakers and digital storytellers for whom public grants are often their sole source of funding. ...Sure, you can launch your own video app or webisodes and fight for attention in that crowd. But this is public space, with immense reach into existing households and cutting-edge technology, owned and paid for by American taxpayers, and presumably ours to use." 

    See this video from Youth Radio for first-hand perspectives from young producers.

  • Cyber-campaigns and user-generated pleas: From WGBH Lab
    across Twitter, public media fans are placing "Twibbons" across their photos that read "Save Public Broadcasting." Video animation site Xtranormal is also serving as a tool for advocates, with videos like "The man takes away public radio,"  being created.

    Expect more online activism in the weeks to come—for many netizens, as Craig Newmark of Craigslist comments, "public service media is a big deal." But not all fans want to "save" public broadcasting; some want the industry to become more self-supporting, like Jill Lawrence, who writes on Politics Daily, " It's time to find another way to help public broadcasting thrive."

    Such debates will only intensify over the next two weeks as the budget battle moves into the Senate. I'll post another roundup next week, but in the meantime, follow the #pubmedia tag on Twitter for breaking updates.