Nostalgic sentiment for government television is no reason to continue funding it. Imagine, if you will, a brand new state called Idaho, born in the year 2010. What government services should this new state offer? Would this new 21st century government really include a taxpayer-funded television network? Probably not, and the reason is simple: It's not needed. It's government waste.
The arguments once used to validate the existence of taxpayer-subsidized government television no longer hold true. For example, in the past, supporters of Idaho Public Television could argue that if not for Idaho Public Television, Idahoans would not have access to educational television programming. Not so any more. Any number of television channels offer hordes of educational choices. Cooking, science, the arts and academics all have their own channels.
Years ago, supporters of Idaho Public Television claimed that if not for the taxpayer-subsidized channel, viewers in rural parts of the state could not access television programming, and that the people in the north were disconnected from the south, and vice versa. That's also not true anymore. Thanks to technology, rural areas and urban areas alike have access to many of the same television signals, either through cable or satellite.
Years ago, supporters of Idaho Public Television claimed that if not for Idaho Public Television, Idahoans would be deprived access to important, life-enhancing information. The Internet has clearly negated that argument. Indeed, many people are opting to download and watch on their computers content that was once exclusively television programming.
There are additional considerations worth noting:
If the Legislature contends that it is a compelling state government interest to run a television station, is the state negligent when it fails to provide each Idahoan a television on which to view the television signal they've dutifully paid for?
If the Legislature contends that every Idahoan needs access to a state television signal, why is the state deciding what information is offered via that television signal? Why not rebroadcast the quality educational programming being offered already by commercial television outlets? Why must the government create and control the content, and why must that government content then be used to compete against the private sector?
If the Legislature contends access to information is the most important reason for having taxpayer funding for Idaho Public Television, can the Legislature really argue that Idaho Public Television is really the single best vehicle for the dissemination of information, especially in light of all the other available technologies -- including those that were not available in 1965 when the broadcaster was created?
And finally, if lawmakers are prepared to continue taxpayer support for government television, are they prepared to go back to their districts and say, "Sorry folks, while TV is the first expense to be cut from your household budget in lean times, the TV in the state budget is exempt from consideration." Or, "We couldn't cut taxes, but you still have Sesame Street." Or, "We cut programs for the neediest people, but at least we were able to provide a cool episode of Outdoor Idaho."
Idaho Public Television does a great job. But it's a job that would receive no taxpayer support were it brand new in 2010. Today, one must strain to contend that television is the proper role of government. That's the lens through which lawmakers should view the decision of whether to continue funding it.