How MPBN could win more public affection

The Maine Public Broadcasting Network has its fans. Proof of that is the fact that about 2,000 of of them braved a howling snowstorm recently to see a personal appearance by a little known (in the U.S.) humorist and story teller named Stuart McLean.

McLean is the host of an hour-long radio program called The Vinyl Cafe, a popular feature on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. His only connection to Maine is his show which is aired by MPBN at 2 p.m. on Sundays.

That time slot -- plus his followers' willingness to fight their way through a blizzard -- indicates that his MPBN following is ardent to say the least.

MPBN's audiences are also eclectic. In addition to unconventional performers like McLean, the network offers large doses of its staple classical music plus popular children's shows such as Sesame Street, the humor of automotive experts Click and Clack and, for sports fans, coverage of the state high school basketball tourney.

This mix has earned MPBN higher ratings than many commercial stations can boast. But despite all of that, the public broadcasting is not universally loved. In fact it is so disliked by many that efforts to defund it are progressing through the Maine legislature, just as they are through the U.S.Congress.

So why is that? Everyone knows the answer: politics.

When it comes to politics, MPBN seems to have lost its way as a truly public network. It's way too left and far too green for conservatives, who don't like footing the bill -- even a tiny part of it --to promote unrebuted political viewpoints with which they don't agree.

Despite that, the MPBN hierarchy has been managed to avoid inciting the depth of anger that NPR (formerly National Public Radio) has stirred in Washington. But no amount of popular entertainment programming will help Maine's public broadcasting network really appeal to conservatives as long as they feel its news operation is skewed left. Or that it goes overboard in favoring the environment over the economy.

These concerns may be arguable, but the evidence that stokes them keeps popping up, Take, for example, two sides of a story that made the news last week. It illustrates how a supporter (MPBN) and a critic (The Wall Street Journal) view the federal Environmental Protection Agency and its controversial chief, Lisa Jackson.

The MPBN view of the issue [/url]is headlined "Maine environmentalists hail new pollution restrictions."

A sharply opposite view is offered in [url= an editorial from the Wall Street Journal Online [/url] entitled "Carbon and democracy."

The point here is that while Ms. Jackson is clearly toxic to conservatives, the MPBN commentary presents Jackson and her fellow bureaucrats as near-heroic figures. Its bias is not especially subtle and it angers conservatives. They're not the mindless yahoos than the NPR chiefs (and some inside the MPBN bubble) like to picture.

Still, with a few important changes -- like throttling back on the disrespect and becoming really fair and balanced, perhaps? -- MPBN could emerge emerge as an inclusive network that serves all Mainers. Then the folks who now rail against public broadcasting could surely be won over.

After all, many of them already enjoy such MPBN presentations such as Big Bird, and Click and Clack. They appreciate coverage of the basketball championships. They're even willing to mush through deep snow to see Stuart McLean in person. They would like to feel that MPBN is a friendly place

But their resentment at subsidizing a news operation that offers a steady diet of overly-liberal and excessively green viewpoints is increasing. They simply don't agree. Why is that so hard for the bubble-dwellers at MPBN to understand?


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