Chris Christie's take on state-run public TV outlets - like MPT

Is he right about Maryland Public Television's conflict in covering state politics?

July 05, 2011|By David Zurawik | The Baltimore Sun

Don't let your feelings one way or the other about New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie stop you from thinking dispassionately about what he has to say about the perils of state-run public television systems like the one we have in Maryland.

Christie, a conservative, has been trying to get his state out of the public television business in an effort to cut ballooning state government costs. Maryland has most or all of the same kinds of money problems.

And like New Jersey, Maryland is one of the states where the state, not a non-profit citizens group, holds the license, provides funds and controls content on the statewide public television operation.

In our case, it's Maryland Public Television with the state providing about one-third of its $26 million budget. You can read a full analysis here that I wrote in March based on a state assessment of documenting MPT's loss of audience, membership and failure to meet underwriting objectives.

I have major problems with the state-owned model for public TV, and think the community-based formula, as practiced at WETA in Washington, is vastly superior in terms of guaranteeing editorial independence and community access.

But here's what Christie said recently in an interview on New York's public radio. Christie has all but moved New Jersey's public radio stations off the state rolls, while he is getting some pushback in the legislature over his plan to let's New York's public TV operation, WNET, take control of NJN, the New Jersey public TV outlet. He was asked in the New York public radio interview what's at stake in his effort to move the stations out from under state control?

"What’s at stake is, I really believed that the state-owned operation of media ended with the Soviet Union, and I don’t think we should be in the television business," he said. "I think it's an inherent conflict of interest for us to be in the television business and for reporters to be state employees -- and I also think that the expense at this time is not justified into the budget."

 You can read the full interview here. You can also read an analysis of the issue and some reaction to Christie's "Soviet"  talk from Tim Graham at NewsBusters here.

The "Soviet" language is a little over the top for my taste. But what do you think about the state running public television? Do you trust how MPT covers state government, particularly the administration of Gov. Martin O'Malley, who controls MPT?

Are you happy with MPT and with your tax dollars supporting it to this extent? Do you think MPT is responsive to and reflective of your teastes?

Can the state afford this annual $8 million expense in this economy? Would you favor the governor appointing a panel to look into other possibilities for MPT -- such as the transfer of the license to a community non-profit group?

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