by Leslie Fields-Cruz
I grew up watching public television. I’ve spent the balance of my professional career helping media makers create content for distribution on public media stations. And I am a public media donor. I cannot imagine living in a world without public media. But I’ve consumed enough grim sci-fi content to provide a glimmer of how dystopian that might be. Which is why I encourage all of you to pay close attention to what is happening with public media in your community.
We’ve come a long way from the days when politicians on Capitol Hill talked openly about cutting all federal support for public media. Many people believe that the crisis has passed. But recent developments at public media stations around that country suggest the fight has just moved from Washington, D.C., to local communities.
For instance, West Virginia’s governor recently appointed five new members to the eight-member board that oversees West Virginia Public Broadcasting. He also terminated the broadcaster’s executive director, who had worked in various capacities at WVPB since 2000. Two of the new appointees appear hostile to public media. One even bragged that he neither owned a TV set nor watched TV programming, preferring to get his “news” from social media. You can read more about that here.
Meanwhile, in North Carolina, two new members have been appointed to the governing board of WUNC, an NPR affiliate radio station housed on the Chapel-Hill campus. The university owns its FCC license. One of the station’s new board members is a UNC-Chapel Hill Trustee who voted against granting tenure to Pulitzer-winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones last spring. The other new member says he supports public media, but doesn’t believe it should receive federal funding. Read more about that situation here.
These are just two examples of public broadcast stations whose editorial freedom and financial futures may be in jeopardy.
In the United States of America, access to press freedom is a right granted by our Constitution. Public media is, for many communities, a beacon in the wilderness. Without it, many would have no access to local news, let alone national news, educational programming, or other programs of civic interest. This is especially true for communities where commercial media are either failing or already gone. If we value our freedom and our democracy, we need to support our local public media stations, pay attention to their health and wellbeing, and advocate for the inclusion of content and personnel that reflect our nation’s rich diversity.
After all, public media stations are the primary distributors of the content BPM storytellers create. By the way, if you haven’t already participated in our BPM Community Survey, please do. The deadline to participate and qualify for a $50 BPM Shop gift card is Sunday, Oct. 24. Your input helps to strengthen our programming so that BPM can continue to support the development and distribution of quality public media content. Thank you.
— Fields-Cruz is the executive director of Black Public Media