“Pull the plug on Del.’s share of PBS’ WHYY”

This is from News Journal columnist and Editorial Board member Ron Williams.

Green Delaware has been seeking an end to the state subsidy for WHYY for many years.

OUR main reason is that the station is primarily a servant of corporate interests, not the public interest.  WHYY is truly “unpublic broadcasting.”   WHYY pays off corporate donors and elected officials with free bogus-news coverage while blacking out independent voices.

A Google search for “Green Delaware” WHYY turns up dozens of examples and stories.

Alan Muller

Pull the plug on Del.’s share of PBS’ WHYY

Gov. Markell keeps telling us he wants suggestions on how to save money and cut next year’s budget. My primary contributions thus far have been to suspend the free medical coverage for state-employed spouses (it’s in the budget) and a temporary 2 percent sales tax with a mandatory sunset provision after two years or whenever the economy turns brighter, whichever comes first.

The sales tax idea has stuck with some legislators, like House Majority Leader Pete Schwartzkopf, but only as a proposal on the table. Those against it say it would harm Delaware’s brand as “The Home of Tax-Free Shopping.” Frankly, the last thing legislators should be thinking of right now — including the governor — is maintaining a brand. We need $800 million, for crying out loud, and our total operating budget is just over $3 billion. Brand, schram. A 2 percent sales tax, generally speaking, would bring in about $92 million, enough to chop the proposed state employee salary cut in half and still have plenty left over for the general fund.

But I have found another half a million bucks the state could save: Stop funding the so-called Delaware public television station, WHYY, unless it changes its reach into Delaware. Pennsylvania contributes another $1.6 million, which as best as I can tell is even more a waste of money for Philadelphia than Delaware when it comes to programming. That amount is surely going to be cut this year by Pennsylvania legislators.

WHYY has become a joke, as I suggested in April 2008. I quit contributing when I realized that the station’s idea of programming was offering day-old sports scores and not to broadcast news, weather or sports on weekends or holidays. That’s not a television station. That’s called keeping the FCC happy with your federal license requirements so the CEO of WHYY, Bill Marrazzo, can continue to rake in $430,000-plus a year, the highest PBS salary in the country.

This is a public TV station that began broadcasting the “results” of last September’s Delaware gubernatorial primary between Markell and Lt. Gov. John Carney but switched to a fundraising program before the results were available.

Station management recently opened a Dover bureau studio, presumably to broadcast live segments from Legislative Hall. Of what little I’ve seen, there’s been no live Legislative Hall reports.

A few weeks ago, the staff of 20 or so at the station’s Seventh and Orange streets studio in Wilmington was told they were losing their free parking spots in the basement level. Now, according to Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Michael Klein, the station’s studio and offices are up for sale at $1.7 million. The station paid $492,000 for the space 20 years ago after it moved from Fifth and Scott streets.

That move was heralded as a crowning day for Delaware public television, what with the transponder broadcast antenna available for downstate broadcast and cable reception. It didn’t happen.

WHYY has never gotten traction in Delaware as a must-watch venue. And this in a state, at least New Castle County, with no local television coverage. (Kent and Sussex countians have heavy coverage from the Salisbury, Md., TV stations.)

Other than WHYY’s weekend movie classics, I can get a better selection of PBS programming from Maryland Public Television and New Jersey’s network.

It’s bad enough that northern New Castle County must depend on Philadelphia television stations for local news — although they all have done much better since discovering Delaware during the Thomas Capano trial — and I’d rather not lose a local PBS outlet. But unless somebody in WHYY management can figure out how to attract a wider Delaware audience, they’re wasting their time and our money here. I hate to see more media colleagues out of work. But unfortunately, if WHYY disappeared, few of us would notice.

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