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Editorial May 12

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Send a check Fund-raising letters are sometimes annoying and nearly always predictable. Seldom do they make for lively reading, but Patrick Pearce, membership manager of the AETN Foundation, has produced such a one. Pearce responded to right-wing columnist George Will, who has written that it’s time to pull the plug on public television. “Mr. Will … contends that public television has been made redundant by a host of cable channels that supposedly offer the same kind of programming,” Pearce wrote. “A quick check of the TV Guide shows that many of the channels Mr. Will mentions offer programming that is quite different from AETN’s.” He notes that A&E, the erstwhile “arts and entertainment” channel, features “Dog: The Bounty Hunter,” a reality series that follows the violent capture of parole violators, and “Growing Up Gotti,” a reality show about a mobster family. “Bravo, a channel once known for airing the arts, now devotes most of its time to programs such as ‘Queer Eye for the Straight Guy’ and ‘Celebrity Poker Showdown,’ ” Pearce writes. “And Trio and the History Channel may offer arts and documentaries, but they also average 23 minutes of commercials every hour. AETN is commercial-free, and even during pledge periods, the typical pledge break is only about 10 minutes, which means you get more interruption on a daily basis on their channels than you do during most of our pledge periods.” In fact, the History Channel is one of many channels virtually unwatchable because of the frequency and length of the commercial interruptions. In further fact, practically all of the quality documentaries on TV come from PBS originally, though chopped-up versions may be shown later on other channels. Not that everybody has all those channels to watch anyway. Pearce points out that one-fourth of Arkansans don’t have access to cable, either by choice or (more likely) because they can’t afford it. “Mr. Will argues that ‘62 percent of this country’s poor households have cable or satellite.’ Are the other 38 percent unimportant? Do they not deserve quality television?” While most of the “news” on television these days consists of reporting on celebrities like Kobe Bryant and Michael Jackson, PBS programs such as “The Newshour with Jim Lehrer” deal with matters of substance. And they do so with considerable objectivity, which is what really agitates conservatives like Will. Will himself is allowed to state his far-right opinions on ABC without any rebuttal from the other side, and almost all the corporate-owned, for-profit TV outlets promote the conservative Republican philosophy to one degree or another. But even one unbiased venue is one too many for the Far Right. That’s why they want to silence public television. And why we, the viewers, can’t let them get away with it.

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