Tuesday, February 19, 2008

A Friendly Idea for funding public broadcasting

Consider this Part II on Oregon Public Broadcasting’s just completed pledge drive. (Part I was "Pledge Drive for Nukes")

Certainly there must be a better way to raise money for public broadcasting.

Once upon a time, when I was in graduate school studying with the larger-than-life Fred Friendly at Columbia University, I researched this very topic.

Fred had come up with a brilliant idea. At the time the government was preparing to hurl new communications satellites into space and sell transmission rights to corporate telecom and media giants. Fred suggested that money made off the sales should be used to fund public broadcasting.

Instead we got corporate underwriting (ads), mind-numbing pledge drives and the annual budgetary struggle with Congress and the Administration.

Of course since Fred made his suggestion in the late ‘60s satellite data transmission is everywhere and is a huge industry. I have no idea what the government does with the money, but it hasn’t warded off pledge drives.

Other forms of private media communication also rely on our public assets.

Look out your window and you are likely to see wires running along (and blighting) the public right-of-way. Yes, the utilities do pay franchise fees for the use, but every few years a new technology elbows its way into the Commons. Cell phone antennas and wireless transmitters are the most recent. And more money rolls in.

I have taken Fred’s idea and suggested that the new revenue streams pay for undergrounding utility wires and transformers in Hillsdale and other metro town centers — all to no avail.

So here’s the deal, as the mayoral candidates and city council candidates come to call, put it to them about this funding source. It could be earmarked to make your community a more attractive place.

I could also be used to get rid of pledge drive week on OPB.

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