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Saturday, July 30, 2005

Nat Hentoff On A Free Press

I really enjoyed this column by Nat Hentoff. He points out the problems with Kenneth Tomlinson's attempts to ensure that the Corporation for Public Broadcasting doesn't have a liberal bias while maintaining that the only way to have a free press is for it not to be funded by the government:
Long ago, during my unformed youth, I was speaking on a panel as an anti-Communist (having read Arthur Koestler's "Darkness at Noon" when I was 15) but wondering about the possibilities of "democratic socialism." A libertarian on the panel asked me how long I thought a free press would flourish under any kind of socialist government. Like a clap of thunder, I was awakened from my fantasy.

Now, under a Republican administration,"public" broadcasting is being investigated as if we were subject to so statist a government that we must be insulated from insufficient appreciation of this administration's virtues. This would be farcical if it weren't actually happening. But I am grateful to Mr. Tomlinson for illuminating the sticky strings that come with government financial support of the press, which must be free to be free.
He's right. There is not a firm dividing line between right or left, conservative or liberal, etc. Free inquiry and a multiplicity of viewpoints is what NPR and PBS need, not some balance imposed from the top down.

On the other hand, I really like NPR and PBS. I just think they should warn me before putting Jane Fonda on. Perfect balance is not achievable in practice. The question is whether on balance Public Broadcasting offers more good than bad. Since it does rely on contributions for some of its operating costs, there is probably a natural corrective in there somewhere.

Why not allow people to designate the programs to which they wish to donate?

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