Originally published: January 24, 2011
Last updated: January 24, 2011 - 8:35pm
[Commentary] Ken Burns is concerned that one of America's other great ideas - public broadcasting - is getting caught up in a narrative in which ideological objectives and budget constraints are creating a climate that poses an increasingly serious threat to the relatively modest level of federal support for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
"I think we ought to just take pause and reflect on what this extra-marketplace programming means to us," Burns said. He makes the case that programming has become reduced to the "fluff between the commercials" in marketplace-driven media. Documentaries such as "Civil War" or "The National Parks" or "Baseball" - to name three of his exquisitely textured series - would never have had a chance to air on commercial television, he suggested. The beauty of his documentaries, beyond their storytelling quality, is their integrity: There's no need to romanticize or embellish history to attract ratings. In-depth reporting and analysis found on "Frontline" and "PBS NewsHour" could not compete with the shout fests on Fox News or MSNBC for advertising dollars. Burns said the relatively small investment in public broadcasting produces "a dividend we can't do without, especially in this commercial era." Americans who want a depth of programming that doesn't necessarily produce celebrity hosts or big ratings or high profits will now have to fight to keep Congress from cutting off funds to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
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