When we speak of "hot topics," I admit that this presidential election has spawned statements by both candidates with which I take issue; but, I am compelled to address the proclamation by Gov. Mitt Romney that our country "cannot afford Big Bird."
If ever there was an icon that stands as a pillar of worldwide diplomacy, that big yellow guy gets the prize. Stopping the subsidy to PBS to bring about his demise is really "penny wise and pound-foolish." Here is why.
If, as an example, the federal budget were $100, then public broadcasting would be one penny or one-hundredth of one percent of the total budget. It is hard to fathom the relationship between a $3.9 trillion federal budget and a $445 million investment in public broadcasting; but that penny example should do the trick.
As a longtime supporter of public broadcasting and a member of the WGCU Public Media Advisory Board, I believe that the value derived from this public-private partnership of public broadcasting unquestionably reaps enormous dividends — not only educational and cultural, but economic as well. Far from being a cultural luxury, public broadcasting is a proven national asset which must be preserved and protected.
From what I have observed and the data I have reviewed, I am not alone in my belief in the value of public broadcasting. This was clearly evidenced in the groundswell of social media support that arose in the minutes and hours after Romney proposed eliminating funding.
In addition, polls show that 69 percent of American voters across the political spectrum oppose eliminating funding for public broadcasting, including nearly 50 percent of self-identified tea party supporters, 56 percent of Republicans and nearly 70 percent of Independents. Further polling shows that Americans consider PBS to be the second most appropriate expenditure of public funds, behind only national defense and the most trusted institution for the ninth year in a row.
Public broadcasting, and specifically WGCU, is in the business of public service — providing content and services to Southwest Florida not available anywhere else. So let's return to that budget example and show you what that modest investment buys. Here are a few examples:
PBS Learning Media, a revolutionary approach to K-12 classroom education, teaching science, technology, engineering, math, history and more with interactive, standards-based and curriculum-aligned digital learning formats.
The works of Ken Burns, preserver of our national memory, which have had a profound effect on viewers, including 10 million new visitors to our national parks in the aftermath of his PBS series, "The National Parks: America's Best Idea."
"Great Performances," presenting the finest of American and world culture, free, even in the most remote living rooms in our country.
And of course, "Sesame Street" and many other early-childhood programs to help preschoolers (especially in low-income families) get ready to learn in school and succeed in life.
Here in Southwest Florida, we are particularly proud of WGCU's locally-produced programming, including radio's "Gulf Coast Live!" our award-winning TV documentaries exploring the history and future of our communities, our own children's TV show "Curious Kids" and our outreach involvement in area schools, libraries and museums.
Public media is a great American success story, and I am especially proud to be part of it. Even in this polarized political environment, there's one thing on which just about everybody can agree: federal funding for public broadcasting is a good thing, beneficial to all, and well worth preserving.