Private broadcasting is commercial. Its mission is to maximize the value of stockholders' investments, which means airing programs with the greatest commercial potential.
The idea of ads on public broadcasting are a dodge, anyway. If they were to become a regular fixture, the price breaks public TV and radio now get on talent fees, music and film-clip rights and union labor would disappear. The escalated program costs would render the best current programs unaffordable.
To "privatize" public broadcasting is to kill it.
* To claim - as Pressler, House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Bob Livingston and their numerous sycophants have done - that the November elections authorized the destruction of public broadcasting is a Big Lie.
Voters were justifiably fed up with a government - controlled for too long by complacent Democrats - that seemed incapable of solving the nation's problems. Public broadcasting, however, is not a problem that requires resolution-by-death.
For $1.09 per person per year, everyone in every home in America gets $1.8 billion worth of entertainment, information and education - not to mention enlightenment and enrichment - in the form of freely broadcast television and radio programs. No other federal operation even comes close to delivering that much direct value for the tax dollar.
Little wonder that the Republicans' hatchet men squawked when PBS released a public opinion poll indicating that 84 percent of Americans want federal
funds for public broadcasting maintained or increased.
I'm reminded of the criminal who grabs you by the throat, drags you into an
alley, pulls out a machete and whispers, "I'm going to hack you into bloody pieces until you're dead - and don't you dare scream for help."
* To suggest that taxpayers are making public broadcasting producers and personalities rich is a Big Lie.
First of all, talented people work for far less money in public broadcasting than they could make in commercial broadcasting. They essentially trade higher pay for freedom from creative interference and the tyranny of ratings.
Commercial broadcasting, for example, had no interest in Ken Burns' creative vision of the Brooklyn Bridge, the Statue of Liberty, Huey Long or, before it aired, "The Civil War." It certainly would not have alloted 19 1/2 hours - or half that - to "Baseball."
The truth is, a public TV or radio program that turns out to have marketable qualities - the product-licensing revenues of "Barney" and ''Sesame Street" are often cited and irresponsibly exaggerated - is so rare that even discussing it seems silly.
It's worth pointing out that these shows do not belong to public broadcasting; they belong to the production entities that create them and then license public stations to broadcast them, much as Paramount licensed NBC and local commercial stations to air, say, "Cheers."
Even so, public broadcasting is having some success - and more all the time - in negotiating rights contracts that include provisions for repayment of public funds on those rare occasions when a program proves profitable.
Ask the Pentagon if it gets a percentage of the profits when McDonnell- Douglas sells F-18 fighter jets, developed at taxpayer expense, to Sweden or Saudi Arabia. Yeah, right.
Underlying all this is a bad-cop/worse-cop strategy that raises blood pressures with threats of elimination of all federal funds and then offers supposed relief with mere cutbacks. This, too, is a dodge, for the Republican hit squad knows such cutbacks will cripple an already fragile system into functional impotence, particularly when it comes to public affairs programs that corporate underwriters avoid.
The only hope here is for us to get our fat potatoes off our couches and tell our elected representatives, repeatedly, to leave public broadcasting alone.