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NPR defunding vote: Don't diminish democracy to settle a political score

The NPR video sting makes it easier to repeat the talking point that public radio doesn’t deserve public support. But research of public media in other democracies shows the opposite is true.

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Republicans in Congress have wanted to defund public broadcasting for decades. Now, after former National Public Radio fundraising executive Ronald Schiller was caught saying that NPR would be “better off in the long run without federal funding,” they’re on the verge of making that happen. A vote could happen this week.

Last week’s video sting certainly makes it easier to repeat the talking point that public radio doesn’t deserve public support. But careful research of public media in other democracies shows the opposite is true.

Before they rush to strip crucial funding from public media, lawmakers should pause to consider just how small the investment and how big the return really are.

A tiny amount

Public funding in the United States is already far beneath the norm in other strong democracies. In a recent study of 14 other democracies – stretching from Australia to Norway to Canada – Matthew Powers and I show that per capita public spending in those countries ranges from $30 to more than $130. This compares to less than $1.50 for federal funding in the United States. Moreoever, when you add in state and local funding, corporate and foundation donors, as well as individual contributions, the US per capita total rises to just $9.

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