The prospect of de-funding National Public Radio, long controlled by the political Left, understandably has many conservatives and libertarians salivating with glee. De-funding may be a good idea at this point - it's possible that the present system is beyond reform - but ultimately the goal ought to be the funding of public radio and television that truly works in the national interest.
Government has a vital role beyond lawmaking and law enforcement. Charged with "promoting the general welfare", the state helps to set the moral, cultural, and even the spiritual tone of the nation. Public media can be valuable component of this program, a powerful force for influencing culture and the common good. A genuinely conservative government will not neglect to employ its advantages. Let's take a look at some of those advantages.
1. Media content is not dependent on market forces. It should not be necessary to remind conservatives that market forces are not always positive or consistent with the common good. The freedom to offer programming that is worthy and important, but that the market does not necessarily support, is therefore indispensable. Likewise, a system of media that does not offer programming independent of market considerations runs the risk of dumbing down the culture.
The independence of public media has many positive implications. A public media can give voices to those who would not otherwise be heard - the unborn, the elderly and infirm, artists and musicians, writers and poets, teachers and scholars, etc. A public media can educate and inform on topics that are unsupported elsewhere: historical events long forgotten, obscure but important personalities, and neglected stories of every kind, without regard for ratings or the approval of advertisers. Yes - it's also true that the state can and does promulgate harmful programming, but the state at least is free to do better, even when "the market" screams otherwise.
2. No commercials! The bulk of corporate advertising, in its present state of vulgarity and crass amorality, is bad for everyone.
3. News as news, not entertainment. In the market-controlled media the news has become little more than mindless entertainment with an overdose of emotional manipulation - a joke. Public media, by contrast, is free to present the news as nothing but news, in much greater detail and depth, and without the aid of sirens, bombs, bells, whistles, keyboards, contrived chit-chat, and scantily-dressed women.
4. Public control. A public media is capable of addressing public needs as they arise and emergencies of every kind. It is capable of being a clearinghouse for information when profit-based operations are tied to other priorities.
5. Restoring a common culture. Americans, through public media, can begin to re-learn the same history, songs, and stories that once united us. Our present market-based media system, left to itself, tends toward cultural dissolution. Today one would be hard-pressed to find two random people on a crowded American sidewalk who know the words to any of our national songs, who have read three or four of the same poems, or who understand our national heritage in the same way. The same problem exists on the regional level even more acutely. A strong, conservative public media could be a source of unity and cultural renewal - not merely on the national level, where this goal is necessarily limited, but on the local and regional level where community life has suffered the most.