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Elimination of state funding has hurt in a way viewers can see — or, rather, not.
Sunday, March 31, 2013
Sometime before the end of June, Blue Ridge PBS programming will be cut off for many viewers in far Southwest Virginia — gone with the state funding that helped to support the station’s operations.
Times have been tough; Virginia has done a lot of belt-tightening in recent years. But chopping the relative pittance state taxpayers contributed to public broadcasting had less to do with the economy than with a misguided political philosophy.
Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell made it clear soon after taking office that he wanted to eliminate public broadcasting from the state budget. By last year, with the help of like-minded state lawmakers, all of the money was gone.
That zeroed out $1 million, or nearly one-third of the operating budget, for Blue Ridge PBS, and proved to be a final blow for operating the station’s transmitters in Marion and Norton, the heart of coal country and one of Virginia’s poorest, most geographically isolated regions.
Over-the-air viewers, who account for about 15 percent of the audience in far Southwest, will no longer be able to pick up the signal for their local PBS affiliate.
Some will be able to watch national programming aired by the PBS station in Knoxville. So “Sesame Street” and other quality educational and cultural programming still will be available to them, at least.
And “Song of the Mountains,” taped at the Lincoln Theatre in Marion, will be brought to viewers in Marion courtesy of the affiliate in Tennessee.
But Virginia public affairs programs won’t be aired. Nor will Blue Ridge PBS-produced documentaries or public service programs on education and health.
McDonnell and a certain brand of Virginia conservatives are not alone in their antipathy to taxpayer support for public television and radio. For years, conservatives have agitated to end federal support, and it’s fair to wonder if, one day, no public broadcast signal will reach into the mountain hollers of Virginia and the rest of Appalachia, or other rural pockets of poverty.
These conservatives argue that commercial stations aplenty offer the same kind of quality cultural and educational programming. But they simply do not.
The nation is awakening to the wide disparity of opportunity for children who grow up in poverty. Inviting all to “Sesame Street” is the least expensive way imaginable to begin to close that gap.
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