Last Friday Georgia Public Broadcasting (GPB), the ONLY television and radio entity serving all of Georgia, announced it is cancelling its most popular in-house produced program, Political Rewind on June 30th. The show, nearing its 10th anniversary, grew from a once-a-week program on Friday afternoons to five days a week at 9:00 a.m., with a rebroadcast at 2:00 p.m., a podcast, and a newsletter.
During fundraising drives, donations pour in from listeners to support the only statewide focused program that draws on panelists ranging from former staffers to Georgia’s governors to mayors, state legislators, journalists, political strategists, and university professors.
The discussion is civil. There is no shouting, no desk pounding, no ranting. Do the panelists always agree? No. Of course not. But they don’t turn the hour into a blood sport of shouting each other down. Facts matter in the discussions, with panelists being held accountable by host Bill Nigut and the panelists themselves, when they stray from the truth.
GPB provides programming for nine television stations across our state and d18 radio stations. A large part of their budget is devoted to Georgia-specific educational programming for Georgia’s teachers and students.
During the last day of the General Assembly session this spring, in a budget year when Republicans tout great economic revenue and reserves for the state, a nine percent budget cut was approved for GPB. Cuts have been staved off in the past, but not this year. The cut amounts to $1.17M, or three percent of its annual budget.
Why cut the only easily accessible radio program produced in Georgia, for all Georgians, featuring timely and civil discussion from a variety of perspectives? One reason given is frankly one of the dumbest excuses I have ever heard.
State Rep. Blake Tillery, R, Vidalia, according to Patricia Murphy at the Atlanta Journal Constitution, was getting complaints from “unspecified rivals” of GPB.
What a lame excuse.
How many commercial radio station owners are really complaining to their state legislators about publicly funded programming featuring award winning news, books of all sorts, music, comedy, food, and culture, can find by tuning their radio to the lower left end of the dial, or streaming? Were lobbyists for the Georgia Association of Broadcasters down at the Capitol telling legislators their commercial station members just can’t compete against “Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me” and “Masterpiece Theatre”?
Believe me, GPB ain’t the problem.
Satellite radio has changed the landscape of broadcasting, but it hasn’t been the death knell many small market station owners feared. Nope, because an awful lot of these small stations subscribe to satellite radio networks and sell ads based on broadcasting those programs. These stations hear the sound of cash registers if they can secure the local rights to Alex Jones and other conspiracy broadcasters, Braves baseball, and UGA football. I know because I have owned a small market radio station AND donated to public radio at the same time.
That’s right, I listened to and sent money to my “competitor.”
The issue here is that GPB produced a program that provides counterbalance to the national and local Alex Jones wannabes. Small market radio can sell air time all day to local businesses who want to expand the echo chamber for right-wing politics. If ring-wing programs, both national and local, because there are local people buy their own air time on small stations, aren’t cash cows, station owners aren’t trying hard enough.
Interim GPB President and CEO Bert Wesley Huffman and the Board of Directors have made Rep. Tillery’s problem their own. Now it is impacting the state, and not in good ways.
If having the only statewide, easily accessible variety of panelists on an hour-long radio program five times a week makes the Georgia General Assembly, and maybe a couple of commercial radio station owners uncomfortable because the participants discuss issues with verifiable facts and data anyone can find for themselves, that isn’t GPB’s problem to solve.
GPB has created a huge void with the cancellation of Political Rewind. If that single program is what led some unidentified, unknown number of commercial station owners to complain, the floor is yours. Get started on producing a high quality program like Political Rewind that can reach the entire state with a radio signal, GPB has removed your single source of “competition” for reasonable discussion of Georgia politics.
But be sure to do that only with donor funds, because as Nigut and others, including Huffman during pledge drives have said repeatedly, Political Rewind has been funded by donor dollars, not state or advertising funds.
Don’t forget, donors love swag!