Michael Lumpkin of Documentary.org lays out the fundamental problems of private funding for public broadcast stations.
He writes, “For decades both documentary filmmakers and lovers of the documentary art form have relied on the Public Broadcasting Service to provide a forum where the best nonfiction work can reach the audience it deserves. PBS has become our nation’s electronic commons—a space relatively free of commerce and commercialism, where diverse American voices can be heard over the for-profit media’s roar.
“But despite its vital role in our cultural life, PBS has always had the same perennial problem: how to pay the bills. Public funding was supposed to keep it independent, impartial and commercial free. But Congress has cut that funding again and again. Pledge breaks and tote bags can only carry a station so far. So a big donation from a major philanthropist can seem like a lifeline. The question becomes, does the lifeline come with strings?”
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