By Patricia Harrison
[This article was originally published in The Hill on March 16, 2017]
Public television and radio is part of American life and valued by men and women and children in both “red” and “blue” states for many important reasons.
Families across the country, in small rural towns and big cities alike, turn to public media for our high-quality children’s content, to provide a safe place where children can learn.
Americans of all ages and backgrounds look to us as their “for free and commercial free” connection to lifelong learning and news and information beyond a sound bite — a connection they can trust.
And we also serve as a lifeline for public safety and emergency alert communications linking communities to lifesaving information.
In so many ways we are the knowledge infrastructure for our nation. The American people expect us to be there, delivering content of value to their lives in every way they choose to access media.
Public media stations, locally owned and operated, are a part of the communities they serve. Their leaders understand firsthand what it means to a community when young people are failing to graduate from high school, and when veterans who have returned home do not know where to turn for the resources they need or the benefits they deserve.
We tell these local stories of national import and inspire community solutions. We also tell stories of local culture and history.
We serve the heartland, from coal miners’ kids in West Virginia who have access to educational programming 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to seniors who rely on our content throughout the day for news and public affairs, health and safety information. We are on-air, online and in America’s communities, connecting citizens to our rich history and culture through local programs and national PBS programs such as “American Experience,” “American Masters” and “Great Performances.” And we bring millions of Americans together for the PBS Memorial Day and Fourth of July concerts, underscoring that there would be no celebratory Fourth of July without the sacrifice of our Armed Forces who are represented on Memorial Day.
Through “PBS LearningMedia,” we provide millions of parents and teachers across the country a free online service that optimizes our high-quality content for use in the classroom or home.
But I think two sisters, Frankie and Patricia, make the case for funding public media best.
Frankie and Patricia are in their late sixties and live in an isolated area near Cookeville, Tenn., in Overton County. Their father was a coal miner, and when he died, there was little money to sustain the two sisters. They worked for a while at the local shirt factory, until that closed. The only television they receive is over-the-air through WCTE. Public media is their link to the world, where they get safety information as well as stories that celebrate the region, something that gives them great pride.
Public media, through this small station, has educated them, their children and now their grandchildren for almost 40 years.
The federal support WCTE receives through the Corporation for Public Broadcasting represents 40 percent of the station’s budget, ensuring a strong foundation of service to this very rural region of Tennessee.
Frankie and Patricia are proud people who have worked hard all of their lives, but they are barely able to make ends meet. While they can’t afford a cable bill, they also will tell you that they can’t afford to do without WCTE.
I hope that day never comes. The elimination of federal funding would ensure that this great American public private service delivering measurable benefits to all citizens would go dark.
And that would be a bad day for not only Frankie and Patricia, and Overton County, Tenn., but for all of America.
The fact is, we can have a strong defense and a vibrant public media service. But America can’t be strong if we aren't building a strong civil society. And we can't be tough if we destroy institutions that earn our trust, as public broadcasting has, again and again.