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How public is public broadcasting?

Review by Adam Turl | February 8, 2002 | Page 9

BOOKS: David Barsamian, The Decline and Fall of Public Broadcasting. Forward by Amy Goodman. Afterward by Mumia Abu-Jamal. South End Press, 2001, 99 pages, $8.

ACCORDING TO its charter, public broadcasting was to be a "forum for public debate" and "provide a voice for groups" that might "otherwise go unheard." But anyone who has listened to National Public Radio (NPR) stump for George Bush's "war on terrorism" has to wonder what happened.

In his book, The Decline and Fall of Public Broadcasting, Denver-based Alternative Radio director and producer David Barsamian explains the source of the problem: cold, corporate cash. Companies like Archer Daniels Midland and ExxonMobil give millions to PBS and NPR each year, influencing most broadcasting decisions.

Barsamian describes how, in 1993, PBS aired a program about New York Times columnist James Reston, produced in part by the Times and a member of the family that owns the paper. But in 1995, PBS rejected a documentary about abused women who had killed their partners, because one of its producers was a leader of a support group for battered women.

Barsamian shows how public broadcasting's rapid decline was the direct result of congressional and White House control over its funding. In 1970, PBS aired the program, "Banks and the Poor," which exposed how banks abandoned inner cities. It listed senators and representitives with ties to the banks, leading President Richard Nixon to veto funding for public broadcasting. After Nixon yanked its purse strings, public broadcasting began courting corporations and conservatives.

Barsamian argues that alternative media, such as the Independent Media Centers that sprung up on the Internet after the 1999 antiglobalization protests in Seattle, are the antidote to corporate control.

This book is a good review of what's wrong with public broadcasting, and the corporate media in general. But the alternative media it advocates depends on the growth of a fighting left-wing movement that can sustain it.

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