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John McInnes writes:
>...Molly Olsen suggests that DTS invalidates PBS' position as a widely
>available source of non-network programming.  It is my understanding--and
>please correct me if I'm wrong--that DTS charges periodic fees to
>continue to receive programming.  If this is the case, DTS users are not
>merely paying for the *equipment*, but also for the programming; such a
>situation equates DTS with cable.  Viewing PBS requires that one
>necessarily possess a television first, but the fact remains that the
>*programming* is free--a fine distinction, but an important one....The bottom
line is that
>PBS doesn't make anyone dole out any filthy lucre for entertainment up front,
>which places them in an entirely different category ideologically.  The
>whole idea of PBS is that people deserve this programming, and that they
>deserve it for free.
 
Yes, DTS (or DBS, as I hear it is also called) is funded like a cable system --
the subscribers pay for the service monthly.  This does not "equate DTS with
cable" in terms of availability, though.  It makes cable stations available to
everyone, including the 33% of homes in areas not wired for cable -- this was
my point -- that you don't have to be broadcast over the air to be widely
available.
 
I agree that the original idea behind PBS is that "people deserve this
programming...for free" (although you acknowledge that viewers must pay for
equipment and sometimes taxes).  But we know more now about who watches PBS
than we did when it was first conceived.  "Deserve" is a loaded word; let's
replace it with "need" -- people need this programming for free.  Do they need
it to be free?  PBS viewers are not exactly the underprivileged -- the PBS
viewing demographic falls almost entirely in middle and upper income families,
who could, and often do, pay for a monthly cable service.  "The programming is
free...a fine distinction" is right  -- a very fine distinction, perhaps so
fine as to be negligible in terms of the difference this makes to the people
who actually watch PBS.  If its programming were to shift to mainly children's
shows or junior-college-level instructional TV (as some public stations do
during the day) it would be easier to argue that people need this programming
for free.  But primetime mainstays such as Masterpiece Theatre and Mystery
don't cater to the economically disadvantaged, let's face it.
 
For the record, I too watch a lot of PBS and think the funding is a drop in the
bucket compared with other federal expenditures -- I'm not in favor of any of
the arts funding cuts that have been proposed.  I very much want to see PBS
programming survive.  But I think it's important even for proponents of public
television to think about what kinds of changes could be made that would
alleviate the need for public funding, because that funding is always going to
be controversial, and for good reason -- we should always be reevaluating what
our taxes pay for.
 
Molly Olsen
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These opinions are mine, not necessarily my employer's.