November 25, 2011

Robert Samuelson’s otherwise sensible Nov. 7 column, “Busting the budget myths,” unfortunately and mistakenly characterized federal support for public broadcasting as among “unaffordable frills.” It is neither.

Public broadcasting represents a little more than one-hundredth of 1 percent of the federal budget. Public broadcasting costs about $1.35 per citizen per year in America, a tiny percentage of comparable figures, among them $31.13 in Canada, $67.34 in Japan, and $85.52 in Great Britain. This modest federal investment makes possible not only great television but extraordinary educational resources and other public services.

Reams of peer-reviewed research have proved the educational value of public television to preschool children, helping them get ready to learn and ultimately to compete in a global economy. Local public television stations have been deeply engaged in kindergarten through 12th grade education for years, through such initiatives as Maryland Public Television’s Thinkport online interactive learning platform.

And now comes PBS Learning Media, which will bring thousands of digital learning objects — created from the best of 40 years of public broadcasting and the best of what we do going forward — to K-12 classrooms nationwide.

Public television also is putting its infrastructure to incorporate public safety and homeland security, job training and other essential public services.

These aren’t frills. They help create a well-educated, well-informed, cultured and civil society capable of fulfilling the responsibilities of citizenship in the world’s most important democracy. It doesn’t get much more essential than that, and that’s what we do in public broadcasting, on a remarkably modest budget.

Patrick Butler, Arlington

The writer is president and chief executive officer of the Association of Public Television Stations.