Dead Air

REMIND ME AGAIN why eliminating taxpayer subsidies for public broadcasting is a right-wing idea?

[sidebar]Liberals are incensed that Congressional Republicans want to strip PBS and NPR of federal funds, but when is the last time they took a hard look at how things are going with our biggest local public broadcasting affiliate? While Tea Party guerillas distract the gullible with theatrical sting operations and spurious debates about liberal bias, the increasingly corporate culture of public broadcasting goes unchallenged — especially in Boston.

WGBH is trying to bust its union. It has paid nothing to the city of Boston in lieu of taxes in four years. Even as it cut wages and staffers in 2009, it spent millions to acquire a second radio station in Boston and then did little more with it than duplicate programming already available from a competing station across town.

This is the crown jewel of the Public Broadcasting System that deserves uncritical allegiance?

WGBH is one of Boston’s last sacred cows, its status as a civic icon as fixed in the collective imagination as that of Harvard, Mass General, and the Boston Pops. Who could take issue with a revered local enterprise that gave us Julia Child, The Victory Garden, and Antiques Roadshow and now produces one-third of PBS’s programming, including such gems as Frontline, Nova, Masterpiece, and The American Experience?

Liberals could and should.

Decades of interminable pledge-week pitches painting PBS as a national treasure entitled to taxpayer support have numbed the critical-thinking skills of what remains of the political left. There is no question that WGBH, and PBS in general, produces compelling, important work that’s in the public interest. But then, so does the Boston Globe, and no one who believes in journalistic independence would endorse the idea of that newspaper, or any other, accepting government subsidies. For the same reason, it is time to wean PBS from its reliance on taxpayer dollars — especially when the frenetic budget-slashing in Congress this spring threatens everything from fuel assistance for the poor to financial aid for debt-burdened college students.

Free-spending WGBH, in particular, has forfeited any claim to a public subsidy.

The behemoth in Brighton — its new 309,000-square-foot headquarters covers two city blocks — relies on the same municipal services as the small neighboring businesses along Market Street. But unlike them, as the Boston Herald has noted, WGBH has not paid the city a cent for fire and police protection or snow removal since 2007. Yes, it is tax exempt. But the station is supposed to pay Boston through the Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) program. The check WGBH cut in 2007 for $10,517, according to the Herald, was a tad less than the $245,000 the program calculated it should receive from the station.

  • MF

    I suspect journalism is dying in America partly because it is poorly practiced, an excess of opinion and snark and a paucity of research and facts. This column is an excellent example of reckless, grossly ill-informed punditry.

  • Kendall

    What a joke.

  • Mark

    Your article is right on target. The reference to Jon Abbott being like Scott Walker is correct. The day of PBS in general and WGBH in specific being a cause for Liberals to support is long gone. The management tactics are straight from the Koch brothers playbook. The terms used and actions made echo what is being on across the country in the name of conservatism. The table has turned. Know what you are supporting when you send in your donations.

  • marlene

    Every media professional in Boston knows this is true. They’re still handing out the Kool Aid at Guest Street, but we’ve stopped drinking it. You should too.

  • Michael

    “Every media professional”? Really?

    Ms. McNamara’s diatribe mentions not a single substantive issue that is in play in this negotiation.

    The template for the contract between WGBH and this union goes back 40 years and is antiquated as it applies to today’s production environment. A close examination would reveal how much feather-bedding, job-killing and costly language is in that contract when it comes to staffing production work. It would show that it’s essentially because WGBH is a union shop that it costs so much to do production there.

    The contract that was imposed contains a wage increase (admittedly small), no increases in employee costs for healthcare, and no job reductions.

    These are not the Bread and Roses workers. These are not John Lewis’s coal miners and WGBH is not playing the role of Scott Walker. It’s a union negotiation and those are, almost by definition, contentious.

    This is incredibly sloppy work on Ms. McNamamra’s part.