Much NPR/PBS programming would exist without government funding. Shows like All Things Considered and Sesame Street are high quality and can compete on their own. Pay cable channels such as Biography, the History Channel, or Arts and Entertainment show that serious, in-depth content can survive in the marketplace. And some NPR/PBS programs, such as Car Talk, serve no broad social purpose even if highly entertaining.
Some NPR/PBS programs might not succeed without government funding. If so, then government is shaping what is presented on TV and radio. Supporters of NPR/PBS would like to believe this shaping is “neutral,” merely promoting high quality programs without taking sides. That view is naïve, at best. Any organization has a perspective, and since NPR/PBS receive government funding, everyone must support their perspective whether they agree or not. The funding is therefore a polarizing activity for government.
The real pity is that government funding represents a small percentage of NPR/PBS funding. Thus all the controversy occurs over small amounts of money. It would be better for everyone if NPR/PBS could be hard-hitting whenever they wish, without worrying about running afoul of Congress. This can only happen if the funding stops.