A panel of media scholars and the chair of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting board of directors commemorated the 50th anniversary of the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967 on Thursday, Oct. 26 in the Wells Fargo Auditorium with a discussion of the past, current and future role of public media in the United States.
The Reynolds School of Journalism, in partnership with KNPB Public Broadcasting and KUNR Reno Public Radio, hosted the panel discussion called the Jim Joyce Symposium on Political Communication.
Panelists included Reynolds School Associate Dean and Professor Dr. Donica Mensing, Lori Gilbert, chair of the CPB Board of Directors; Dr. Robert K. Avery, Professor Emeritus of Communication at the University of Utah; and Dr. Michael Huntsberger, Associate Professor of Mass Communication at Linfield College in McMinnville, OR.
Panelists paid tribute to the Public Broadcasting Act and spoke fondly of a wide range of public media outlets it helped create, like the Public Broadcasting Service, National Public Radio and numerous other community and state media.
In her opening remarks, Mensing acknowledged that public trust of the media is at a low point today and that public media has been targeted and threatened by politicians and skeptical public opinion.
“You can always think of democracy as an experiment,” Mensing said. “But, the experiment that we’re running right now is what happens when you decrease the amount of trusted, edited information in news, and you increase the amount of unverified rumors, speculation, propaganda and deliberate misinformation.”
All four of the panelists addressed the issue of unverified news and pointed to public media as a reliable source of information.
Gilbert advocated for the positive role public media plays in communities around the country and Dr. Avery reminded listeners of the history of public media and gave a historical account of the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967.
President Lyndon B. Johnson, a former teacher, signed the Public Broadcasting Act into law on Nov. 7, 1967. Dr. Avery said it took “unbridled idealism” and “skillful political maneuvering” to pass the act. Its purpose was to provide federal funding to broadcast television for educational purposes and to create a new institution: the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
While Gilbert and Dr. Avery gave listeners perspective on the history and present role of public media, Dr. Huntsberger spoke about the future of public media.
“At this moment, faith in institutions of all kinds is lagging, not just in the U.S., but around the world,” Dr. Hunstberger said. “We have reached that point in human culture, described decades ago by Michel Foucault when we understand that all communication is to one degree or another propaganda.”
Dr. Huntsberger said that public media are responsible for reversing this trend because commercial media will always be “selling something.”
“What’s needed are transformative initiatives to cultivate awareness of the nature and effects of mass communication,” he said. “To help audiences separate fact from opinion, truth from falsity and good from evil. That kind of awareness can only be achieved through public media because the existential purpose of commercial media are inherently propagandistic.”
Symposium panelists contributed to an article in the November issue of the Journal of Radio and Audio Media, available in the Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center.
Ryan Suppe can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @NevadaSagebrush.