Last night, the U.S. House voted to reverse the compromise Net Neutrality rules passed by the FCC in December. Today, the same politicians plan to vote to eliminate funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the institution that distributes federal funds to some 1,300 local public broadcasting stations and other noncommercial media. The cuts were made as part of a larger budget bill that proposes to slash $100 billion in federal funding to numerous valuable public programs.
Even for this Congress, today's vote is a low water mark. The Net Neutrality rules are already a watered down half-measure that don't come close to preventing the largest phone and cable companies from censoring or blocking what you see and do online. Last night, phone company lobbyists got congress to vote down what was already a shell of what President Obama promised when he said he would "take a backseat to no one" on Net Neutrality.
Public media are one of the few bright spots in an otherwise bleak American media landscape that is overrun with barking partisans, vapid celebrities, 30-second stories about the most pressing issues, and a he-said-she-said timidity that allows spin to trump facts. Public media is one of the only places you can find critical journalism and trustworthy educational programming. And at less than $1.50 per person per year, America spends far fewer federal dollars on public broadcasting than most democratic nations.
The same politicians who put NPR and PBS on the chopping block support corporate tax breaks that deprive the U.S. Treasury of billions in revenue. According to the Brookings Institute, of the many loopholes that riddle U.S. tax code, just one, the "deferral of foreign source income" allows multinational corporations to shortchange Uncle Sam by nearly $34 billion annually. That one tax break is more than 70 times the amount of federal funding public media receive each year. And that's just one of many tax breaks for corporations. Many of the wasteful military programs that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has recommended Congress eliminate cost far more annually than we spend on all of public media.
These cuts are less about curbing spending, and more about the systematic dismantling of civil society that requires critical journalism, quality education, affordable health care, and consumer, environmental and financial protections. The pitchforks are brandished by an angry mob of politicians who are nothing more than puppets for corporate lobbyists and the super-rich. When responsible journalists expose the status quo corruption that those politicians represent, they lash out with allegations of liberal bias, and zero out funding, because they cannot defend themselves or the corrupt political system they are part of.
With political uprisings abroad and financial collapses at home; environmental crises and rampant political corruption, this country needs far more -- not less -- open, uncensored, unblocked Internet access. We need more intelligent, hard-hitting media that "comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable." Public media is one of the few media outlets that do just that, so you better stand up and defend it.
If, like me, you yearn for a day when facts and truth prevail over propaganda and spin in American political debate, public media and net neutrality may just be your only hope.