Non-Commercial Competition For Fox News
This is an important progression in the public broadcasting discussion as the focus is no longer solely on content but also on who is in the audience.
Many people find this troubling, fearing that CPB is now engaging in the very activity it was designed to prevent – political interference with programming content. It is a legitimate concern.
It’s my nature, however, to take people’s statements at face value until given a reason to do otherwise. So I’ll believe Ken Ferree when he says, “Believe it or not, we don't discuss politics here.”
But the discussion is about who watches. That leaves us with an interesting question. Is Mr. Ferree suggesting that CPB fund programs targeted at the viewers of Fox News?
Though Mr. Ferree might not realize it, the answer has to be “yes” because new audiences don’t appear out of thin air. They are won from the competition. To be successful, any new programming targeted at conservatives will have to pull audience from programs currently serving conservatives. This might actually fit CPB’s public service mission.
For years, conservatives complained about not having media outlets that appeal to their values. They have them now in Fox, at least on the news side, and in radio talk shows such as Rush Limbaugh and Doctor Laura. But these are outlets are riddled with commercialism and hype. Conservatives don’t have non-commercial media outlets. It is beginning to sound like they want them.
The success of NPR News, News Hour, and Now with Bill Moyers shows that a lot of people want to get their news from organizations free from advertising, hype, and commercial influence. They want to know that the people delivering the news have not been bought. The ratings bear this out. News audiences in public broadcasting have grown significantly despite the proliferation of news choices on TV, cable, radio, satellite, and the Internet.
There’s no reason to believe this pattern won’t hold as the number of commercial, conservative news options grows. More competition means more hype and more commercials. At some point, there will be a sizable number of conservatives looking for a non-commercial alternative to it all.
Since CPB funded non-commercial news alternatives to ABC, CBS, CNN, and NBC, it is well within its mission to fund non-commercial alternatives to Fox and other conservative-leaning media outlets. The increase in appeals for public broadcasting to reach out to conservatives suggests there is a demand for these alternatives. CPB owes it to the public to at least explore the possibilities.