The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Opinion

April 13, 2012

Not to sound like Oscar the Grouch, but Legislature should leave OETA state funding alone

Certain legislators recently targeted the Oklahoma Television Authority, the state’s public television station, to such a degree that it nearly was eliminated as an agency.

OETA narrowly avoided elimination in a Senate committee meeting by a single, last-minute vote, according to The Oklahoman. Fortunately, two proposals to cut annual funding of around $4 million are likely dead this session. (Remember, this is the TV station that televises “Sesame Street.”)

Elmo was on death row, but he has been spared … for now. According to The Oklahoman, OETA nearly died from inaction because legislation authorizing the public-private partnership reportedly was due to expire unless it was reauthorized this year (and a Republican senator thankfully changed his vote to pass it out of committee). Senate Pro Tem Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa, hopes the bill will pass the full Senate.

Rep. Leslie Osborn, R-Tuttle, earlier introduced and then withdrew a bill to phase out OETA funding. The lawmaker still opposes the state agency, reportedly claiming private donors would be enough to supplement funding for public television. We don’t believe that.

OETA’s scrutiny didn’t end there. During one hearing, the Oklahoma Gazette reported Rep. Charles Ortega, R-Altus, questioned using state funds to air programs “that (show) we developed from monkeys, apes, or whatever, and we came down off the trees and those that were left behind were just left behind.”

John McCarroll, executive director of OETA, maintains that education is one of government’s core functions.

“We feel like OETA is in the education business,” McCarroll told the Gazette. “We have teachers, we have homeschoolers, we have GED teachers who depend on that programming and also lifelong learners. People who are older and want to learn about nature or science or the arts, and the only place you’re going to do that is on OETA.”

Targeting public television is misguided. In its history, OETA has aired excellent programming ranging from children’s shows such as “Curious George” to the investigative “Frontline” public affairs program to less innocuous shows as “The Lawrence Welk Show,” “Fawlty Towers” and the award-winning documentaries of Ken Burns.

We’re tickled for Elmo and his extended life. Now, excuse us as we curl up on the couch tonight and watch B.J. Wexler’s OETA Movie Club.

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