Bye NPR. Hello BBC, Al Jazeera, Chinese Radio.

The decision by Congress the House of Representatives to defund NPR and block local public radio stations from using federal money to acquire NPR content is, like any action, likely to have interesting unintended consequences. This action comes at a time when demand for information and knowledge of affairs around the globe continues to grow, to focus on just of the many values of NPR. 

Congress The House is creating an opportunity that the US commercial media is unlikely to take advantage of, for whatever reason. The old giants of radio news, from CBS to NBC to the AP are unlikely to jump into the new gap and coverage of similar breadth and depth. The AP has the content, but will their agreements with their members – they are an association with members – allow them to provide content to radio that may also be carried by the local paper? Will Federal Communication Commission rules prevent local newspapers and television from expanding into the space presumably to be vacated by NPR?

The most likely winner, at least the short term, will be foreign government broadcasters. Already, local public radio stations often fill gaps in programming with news from the BBC. It is easy to imagine demand for the BBC will increase if programming from NPR becomes unavailable or drops in quality. But BBC is not the only game in town. The recent performance of Al Jazeera English in covering the Middle East may embolden AJE to explore avenues. I would be surprised if Russia Today wasn’t actively seeking to expand its reach. The same for Chinese Government broadcasters, including Xinhua and Radio China International. I do not anticipate a large expansion into public radio, however.

Forget of course other tax-payer supported news organizations from being legally available to news consumers within America’s borders.

What are you thoughts on this potential example of the law of unintended consequences?

Update/clarification: As NPR points out, including NPR’s Andy Carvin, only 2% of NPR’s funding is federal.

3 Replies to “Bye NPR. Hello BBC, Al Jazeera, Chinese Radio.”

  1. Yep…it’s interesting how some things are all of a sudden determined to be no longer public service, like, perhaps, keeping the national informed. I don’t think it is a bad thing that other nations’ services are available for access but one certainly does not want to be relying on them for the only perspective, especially if there is a vacuum where the national perspective used to sit.

  2. I think you’re confusing the radio and TV offerings. Whilst I can see Russia Today, BBC America and AJE getting some expanded coverage through more terrestrial outlets and partnerships, the programme quality and style of both Xinhua and CCTV9 in English does not make for inspiring viewing, even to those who are curious about China. Most of it is a continuous showcase.France24 would have been on my list, but internal disputes mean they are a shadow of their former self.
    I am sorry to say that, apart from what they are doing now under exceptional circumstances, the output from NHK World TV is nothing like world class.
    I am concerned about the variable quality of BBC World News. They run some excellent features like Click and Hard Talk. But I get worried when I read BBC World News will air a series of 30-minute programmes, to be called Horizons. These are described as “sponsored” programmes, but we have no idea what influence DuPont will have as the sponsor. I have no problem with corporate sponsorship of many things, but sponsorship of editorial on news channels is a no-no in my book. If they are not transparent on these things, then how can I trust them for more important material?
    On the radio side, with the exception of BBC World Service, the quality of radio programming is pretty awful. Mind-numbing. So will US radio audiences benefit from programming from China Radio International, Voice of Russia, Deutsche Welle, Radio France Internationale (in English), NHK Radio Japan etc? Just listen to them on the web and ask whether you would write to your cable company and have them included in your subscription. Er no.
    BBC World Service will cutback a lot of their feature programmes as the cuts start to bite in April. They have cut some of my favourites. I wonder why they don’t market some of the excellent features they run on domestic BBC Radio 4?

  3. NPR lost the support of many when they lost their objectivity. When this was discussed on a local Kansas City radio station, callers from the left lamented that the elimination of NPR would remove “their only source of left leaning news.” With the wide spread availability of 24/7 cable news, radio news and Internet news sites, it’s far past the point where we should be putting public money towards this program. I’d say that even if it were unbiased reporting, but it’s not, so I reject it even more.This goes hand-in-hand with PBS as well. Consider shows like Sesame Street. That show’s target audience puts it in direct competition with networks like Disney and Nickelodeon. And those networks pay Federal and State taxes. So, in effect, Uncle Sam (or the state equivalent) is taking money from those entities that is then spent on an activity they are competing against.
    If there’s a market for the product, someone will step in and fill the gap. If there’s not a market, then we should not be dumping valuable tax dollars into it anyway.
    Sorry Matt, while I agree with most of what you write here, I think you’ve missed it on this one.
    I don’t dismiss the point about there being a void to fill – but NPR is not the answer – perhaps the answer lies in the past. It lies in restoring the “oomph” to our public diplomacy programs, not in continued funding of a leftist partisan program. Hell, I’d bet it would not take me too long at all to find specific examples of NPR shows that emboldened our enemies and demoralized our troops.

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