At the end of last year’s session, the Mississippi Legislature approved a $6.1 million budget for Mississippi Public Broadcasting, a state agency that operates a statewide network of television and radio stations.
That appropriation was a $1 million cut from 2017, but it was something else included in the bill that should serve as a warning for Mississippians who believe in what MPB has to offer.
In that legislation, there is a clause that would end state funding for MPB by 2024. Since state funds are MPB’s largest source of funding — 57 percent — that provision, if enacted, could mean the end of public TV and radio in our state as we know it.
Public radio and TV have been something of a whipping boy in some conservative circles almost from the start. Funding for both the national and Mississippi public broadcasting systems have endured one challenge after another almost since inception — which in MPB’s case goes back to 1970.
Some programming, especially on the national level, does appeal to a more liberal audience, but anyone familiar with MPB will find few instances where programming has been anything but benign.
MPB’s board is sensitive to the criticism and has, on occasion, opted out of programming offered by the national Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
But on those rare occasions where programming offends political sensibilities, the idea that MPB is anything but a positive influence is a grave distortion of reality. Ending state funding for MPB would be a case of throwing the baby out with the bath water.
On Thursday, MPB human resources director Henry Williams spoke to the Columbus Exchange Club, making his pitch for ordinary Mississippians to support its mission.
Williams ticked off the programming MPB provides, which focuses on three core missions — public health/safety, civic engagement and education.
In the area of education alone, it’s clear that MPB provides an essential service and is worthy of the tax dollars we send its way.
Williams said the data shows that 87 percent of Mississippi children watch MPB children’s programming. For more than half of the state’s children, that programming is the only pre-K education they will receive.
That’s a stunning figure. It points to our state’s woeful failure in providing pre-K education and MPB’s vital role in filling that awful gap in our educational system.
We urge all those who believe in MPB’s mission to donate. It would also be helpful to remind our legislators that Mississippians believe MPB deserves adequate state funding.
The year 2024 will be here before you know it.
The Legislature needs to know, in no uncertain terms, that any effort to kill MPB to soothe largely imaginary political grievances is to the detriment of our citizens.
The Dispatch Editorial Board is made up of publisher Peter Imes, columnist Slim Smith, managing editor Zack Plair and senior newsroom staff.