Public Broadcasting in the Age of Communications Revolution


  • Robert W. McChesney



Media, Political Economy


U.S. conservatives are attacking the federal subsidy that supports public broadcasting with great fervor this year. Although the grant to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the Public Broadcasting System (PBS), and National Public Radio (NPR) likely will be extended, if at a reduced rate, for three more years by the current Congress, the handwriting is on the wall: there will be no more government-subsidized broadcasting in the United States by the end of the decade. I believe this is unfortunate and that it is very much in our interest to be expanding through any number of measures the nonprofit and noncommercial media sector. In what follows I will put the fight over U.S. public broadcasting in historical context. By doing so, I hope to explain the sorry state of contemporary U.S. public broadcasting. I will also link the fight over public broadcasting to broader political economic trends. The crisis of public service broadcasting—meaning nonprofit broadcasting with minimal advertising—is global in nature, so the dimensions of the U.S. struggle become more clear in a global light.

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