Public Broadcasting and Dictatorships

I would hate to sound like a conspiracy theorist, because there are few things more misguided or boring than conspiracy theorists. But…

This morning during breakfast the television in the hotel lobby was on the local PBS television station. They were showing beautiful choral music for Christmas that tugged at my heart strings and made me miss parish ministry.

Then I thought of the political threats coming from the newly elected Republican Congress to pull funding from public broadcasting and how that might impact my ability to watch this kind of thing. Then I thought of the biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer that I am reading.

You see, when dictators come to power – be they socialist, communist, republican or democrat – the first thing they seek to control is the media. King George II already started that process when he forbade the news media from reporting on the dead bodies of American troops returning from overseas. The major news media are now under the control of corporations with political aspirations of their own. When you add to this that Americans have willingly ceded their rights on a daily basis since 9-11, the future looks gloomy indeed.

Now come the Republicans. They don't like public broadcasting because it tends to espouse a different world view and they can't control public broadcasting. The job of the media, however, isn't to please politicians (no matter what FOX and MSNBC seem to believe). The job of media is to tell the truth. Public Broadcasting won't capitulate to politicians, and so the Future Fuhrers of America would like to pull funding from public broadcasting to silence it.

Given that the other objective of dictatorships seeking to gain power is control of religion, those of us who are spiritual need to start standing up for a free media, lest we find ourselves quoting Martin Niemoller:

"First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out – because I was not a Socialist.

"Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out – because I was not a Trade Unionist.

"Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out – because I was not a Jew.

"And then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak for me."

Before they could come for anyone, including Rev. Niemoller, the Nazi's controlled the media and in doing so controlled public opinion.

Anytime we hear a politician trying to silence anything but hate speech we should be very concerned. As post World War I Germany discovered, times of economic crisis are times that are ripe for power grabs by people who would otherwise never be considered for public office.

What is a Bishop doing writing about these things? All people of faith need to be concerned about these issues because with them come the things Jesus spoke very clearly against: oppression, violence, hatred, persecution, hunger, poverty, and everything that comes with them.

You may not be a fan of Ernie and Bert, you may agree with me that much of public broadcasting fare's best function is bringing on sleep, you may like me prefer to listen to NPR via podcasts rather than drive around listening to sedate announcers for hours on end, or you may not be a public broadcasting consumer at all; but we all need public broadcasting, and we all need to call journalists to stop being political hacks and return to being journalists.

It's about a whole lot more than public broadcasting.

Sent from my U.S. Cellular BlackBerry® smartphone

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