Readers who followed me over the years know that sometimes I’ve been critical of public television.
I criticized its occasional commercialism and its lack of programs by or about LGBT people. Still, I am a longtime fan of public television. Unlike broadcast and most cable television, which seem to exist to sell advertising and appeal to the lowest common denominator, public TV serves the public with (mostly) quality programs that educate, entertain and elevate our minds and hearts. When cable stations emerged in the eighties many of us thought that they would make public TV obsolete; a notion that cable quickly dispelled as it descended into a trash heap of dumb reality shows. Where else on television – whether broadcast, cable or streaming – can one find, in the words of one of its most enthusiastic donors, opera and ballet, travel shows and cooking shows? Here you will find historic shows, patriotic shows, shows about Jews, shows about Blacks, shows about Latinx, and, occasionally, shows about the LGBT community.
Dolores Sukhdeo, CEO of South Florida PBS stations WPBT and WXEL (my local outlets), put it well when she wrote that “we are a storyteller, a teacher, a theater, a library, and a traveling companion. We are the most trusted place for families with children, a thoughtful retreat for adults, a source of reliable, unbiased information, and a place where all of us can continue to learn and grow.” Critics unfairly mock PBS for producing television for children under seven and seniors over seventy. As one who is fast approaching the second group, I find much to enjoy in public television. But there is much in PBS for everyone, not just for the very young or the very old. Often public TV falls short of its goals, as when it gives in to the whims of public or private pressure groups, or when it runs thinly disguised infomercials during its seemingly endless round of pledge periods. But all in all, in spite of its faults, public TV comes through.
Only a small percentage of PBS funds comes from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a government agency that receives money from the government to fund public television. The rest comes from foundations, philanthropies, those notorious pledge periods, donations from wealthy widows like Darlene Marcos Shiley, and “contributions from viewers like you” and me. Mrs. Shiley gave $10 million from her inherited money to the Masterpiece Trust, which finances that popular series of British-made dramas and mysteries. Obviously my modest $55 annual membership donation is nowhere near the contributions made by Mrs. Shiley and other philanthropists. But I do my best. Hopefully, people who read this article will do their best, too. If you agree that public television - and radio - are worth protecting and supporting, you might start by sending a donation to your local public TV station, and not just during pledge periods.
Jesse Monteagudo is a freelance writer and journalist. He has been an active member of South Florida's LGBT community for more than four decades and has served in various community organizations.