Columns 2015

Public broadcasting Kellior zombies

I am an ardent supporter of public broadcasting. Until last year, I had been on a board or commission for public broadcasting since my first stint at KBRW in Barrow in the late seventies. I was there as public radio brought the Inupiat language into the public sphere by broadcasting in Inupiat as well as English. I listened as people from far-flung villages wished distant friends and relative’s happy birthday on the birthday show.  I anchored a show on Saturday mornings called Discount Radio. Its motto was, “You get what you pay for and I’m a volunteer.” This tamped down any expectations that I knew what to do when dead air went out over the airways because I had once again hit the wrong button.

While public broadcasting receives some government money, its heart and soul is really its donors and volunteers. There are people all over this state who have spent years giving their time and expertise freely and gladly to keep their station going. Tundra Drum messages became a lifeline in many of Alaska’s more remote locations. And hearing their Native tongue spoken on air was a joy for so many Alaska Natives whose language had been forbidden to them for so long.

So when our current budget battle began, I knew that public broadcasting would have to take a hit along with many other programs that people in the state had come to rely on. I made a vow to not write a column begging the legislature to leave public broadcasting funds alone because I understood the depth of our financial crisis and knew that we were all going to have to tighten our belts. What I’d clearly forgotten was the depth of devotion some of our legislators had to the oil companies. Cutting education before cutting oil company tax credits still boggles my mind.

What really rankles though are the people who claim that public broadcasting is some kind of liberal cabal that uses public funds to achieve the nefarious goal of creating a mindless population of liberal zombies who wander through life with glazed eyes screaming “Give me Prairie Home Companion or give me death.” If only liberals could ever be that single minded and focused.

What people who complain about public broadcasting don’t acknowledge is that public broadcasting airs all view points but does so in a civil manner. This is why anyone who actually tunes in will find themselves listening to news shows in which both sides of any argument are always presented. Each side is usually represented by a thoughtful and respected spokesperson. And that’s where I think the problem lay.

Conservative voices heard on public broadcasting are usually reasoned, reasonable and coherent. They are not the screaming, loud, incoherent, and angry at the mere mention of Obama, talking heads usually associated with Fox News products. While liberals may have created public broadcasting out of a desire to ensure that all Americans, even in the smallest of markets, would have access to news, weather, community events and the world in generally, the implementation of that plan was not some liberal plot of indoctrination. Quite frankly, if you know any liberals, you know that they spend a lot of time tripping over their own belief that everyone has a right to be heard so long as you don’t use that right to shout so loudly all other voices are drowned out.

I’m saddened that KUAC in Fairbanks will no longer carry APRN.  It is still the only place in this state reporting local news locally. I’m saddened at the loss of Steve Lindbeck to our system. His is a voice and skill set that will be hard to replace. I’m saddened that this amazing resource will be diminished despite knowing that public broadcasting had to take financial hits like everyone else in this time of belt tightening; except of course if you are an oil company in Alaska in which case our legislature has your back.

But mostly I’m saddened by the continued attempt to paint it as something it isn’t. Public broadcasting is not a mouthpiece of liberalism; instead it is a forum for public discussion of the most important topics of our time, a forum held in a civil, adult tone that eschews the screams and rants that some would try to pass off as reasonable discussions in today’s media.

Public broadcasting is not Fox News. It is not MSNBC. It’s a place where intelligent people can hear the pros and cons of a topic discussed in a manner that does honor to civic life.