Health in Public Media: Highlight HEALTH Joins 170 Million Americans

Reading time: 8 – 12 minutes

Congress and the White House are clashing over the federal budget. Congress is considering serious cuts in funding for all public broadcasting. Since January, three bills have been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives to cut or eliminate the $430 million currently allocated for the Corporation For Public Broadcasting (CBP). Pending a vote in congress this week, the Public Broadcasting System (PBS), considered by the public to be the second-best use of taxpayer dollars (outranked only by defense spending [1]), could cease to exist.

170 Million Americans

Federal spending and the national deficit need to be addressed (see our stories on Healthcare Spending After the Recession, Healthcare Costs and the Looming US Budget and An Inconvenient Financial Truth – Healthcare Costs Endanger U.S. Financial Stability). However, eliminating the government’s investment in public broadcasting would not significantly cut the budget deficit. Elimination of funding for the CBP would reduce the federal budget deficit by less than three ten-thousandths of one percent (that’s 0.0003%) but would have a devestating impact on local communities and the 170 million people that use public media every month.

170 Million Americans for Public Broadcasting is a collaboration of public radio and television stations, national organizations, producers, viewers and listeners throughout the country in favor of a strong public media in the United States. Highlight HEALTH is proud to join 170 Million Americans. Indeed, half of all Americans (170 million people) use public broadcasting every month. Yet the federal investment amounts to just $1.35 a year per citizen, less than the cost of a cup of coffee.

As more and more media outlets have vested interests in commercial enterprises or political parties, America needs a strong public media as a source of non-partisan news, local cultural programming, public affairs and non-commercial educational programs. Secure funding makes demographics and ratings less relevant, and the less that public broadcasters have to rely on their audiences, the less they’re required to behave like a commercial network. For their audiences, public media fosters the desire to learn, to ask questions and to be engaged in the ideas, ideals, vision and accomplishments of their lives and their local, regional and national communities.

Here at Highlight HEALTH, we normally report on biomedical research advances and promote resources for health literacy. As we offer our support of government funding for public broadcasting, let’s review some of the health programming and resources freely provided by public media to inform, enhance and enrich our lives.

Public Broadcasting System (PBS)

Federal funding helps PBS deliver educational and commercial-free programming that expands children’s minds, documentaries that open up new worlds, trusted news programs that keep you informed, and exposes you to the worlds of music, theater, dance and art as an adult. PBS has a number of programs for children, adults and educators focused on health:

  • PBS Health & Wellness lets readers explore PBS programs about health, health care, wellness, fitness, lifestyle issues, nutrition, caregiving, elder issues and more.

  • PBS KIDS Health Games lets children play games to learn about healthy eating, hygiene and other healthy living topics.

  • The PBS Video, Health & Wellness channel lets viewers energize their mind and body with programs about aging, nutrition and fitness, and explore the decisions behind healthcare policies and regulations.

  • PBS Teachers Health & Fitness provides multimedia resources and professional development for America’s preK-12 educators.

National Public Radio (NPR)

Federal funding helps NPR create and distributes award-winning news, information and music programming to a network of 900 independent stations, reaching 27.2 million listeners every week. The mission of NPR is to work in partnership with member stations to create a more informed public — one challenged and invigorated by a deeper understanding and appreciation of events, ideas and cultures. They are innovators and developers, exploring new ways to serve the public via digital platforms and improved technologies. In a time of media fragmentation and sound-bites, NPR has succeeded by focusing on its core: in-depth, quality news. NPR offers several health resources:

NPR Health aggregates on air content and print news stories, including the following sections:

  • Your Health: NPR provides news and commentary about personal health, medicine, healthcare, drugs, diet, recipes, and nutrition.

  • Health Care: NPR discusses the state of health care, health insurance, new medical research, disease prevention, and drug treatments.

  • World Health: NPR offers news on world health issues, disease control, public health and sanitation, and health education.

  • NPR: Your Health Podcast brings you the latest in consumer health and medical news reporting.

  • NPR’s health blog Shots — written and reported by NPR’s Science Desk — covers news about health and medicine.

American Public Media (APM)

APM is the second largest producer and distributer of public radio programming in the nation. APM produces the prominent program Marketplace (a personal favorite), providing news on business, economics and money for the rest of us. In January 2010 Marketplace added reporter Gregory Warner to cover the business of healthcare [3]:

Public Radio International (PRI)

PRI is a major public media content creator and also distributes programs from many sources. The mission of PRI is to serve audiences as a distinctive content source for information, insights and cultural experiences essential to living in our diverse, interconnected world. PRI is increasingly focused on fulfilling the unmet needs in global news and cultural perspectives, created and curated specifically for relevance for Americans. PRI offers two health resources:

Reasons to support public broadcasting

Everyone here at Highlight HEALTH recognizes the need to reduce the federal deficit. However, funding for public radio and television stations is too important to the future of our country to eliminate. Why? Here’s a few reasons [4]:

  • Public broadcasting is local.
    Stations are locally licensed and governed, locally programmed, and locally staffed. This means local jobs; about 21,000 nationwide [2]. In many rural areas, public broadcasting is the only source of free local, national and international news, public affairs and cultural programming.

  • Public broadcasting is a great investment.
    Federal support is critical seed money for local stations, which leverage each federal dollar to raise over six more dollars from local sources in order to provide the American public with the highest quality programming and services.

  • Public broadcasting reflects the values of viewers and listeners, not advertisers.
    America has tremendous diversity of broadcasting outlets, but only public broadcasting is commercial free.

  • Public broadcasting is a source of unbiased news, local cultural programming, and non-commercial educational programs designed to enhance the quality of life of local communities.
    Public broadcasting is a source of children’s programming, public affairs, music and culture information that is typically not available from other sources.

  • Public broadcasting provides vital programming for parents and children.
    Public broadcasting has the best interests of children as its sole objective. Only public broadcasting offers children’s programming free from commercial considerations. This is one reason why parents and teachers trust public broadcasting, and why maintaining our public broadcasting system is so important.

  • Public media embraces the digital future.
    Public broadcasting is committed to a multi-platform presence: content is now available through broadcast, cable, satellite, satellite radio, the Internet, and wireless devices.

Support public broadcasting

If you are one of the 170 million Americans who tunes in to public radio and television every month, it is imperative that you contact your congressional members and call on them to support government investment in public broadcasting. You can call the office of Representative Dan Burton at (202) 225-2276 and say that funding for public broadcasting is too important to eliminate. Please take a moment to join 170 Million Americans, then email your congressional members and urge them to support public broadcasting.

UPDATE: February 19th, 2011 reports that the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 1 this morning, which eliminates federal funding for public broadcasting. The bill heads to the Senate next. Your voice can make a difference. Tell your Senators to save federal funding for public broadcasting!


  1. New National Roper Poll Ranks PBS as Leader in Public Trust. PBS. 2005 Feb 16.
  2. Listen up on public broadcasting. The Boston Globe. 2011 Feb 17.
  3. In Collaboration with WHYY, Marketplace creates Health Desk in Philadelphia with the Addition of Reporter Gregory Warner. American Public Media. 2010 Jan 12.
  4. Why Public Broadcasting? 170 Million Americans. Accessed 2011 Feb 17.
About the Author

Walter Jessen, Ph.D. is a Data Scientist, Digital Biologist, and Knowledge Engineer. His primary focus is to build and support expert systems, including AI (artificial intelligence) and user-generated platforms, and to identify and develop methods to capture, organize, integrate, and make accessible company knowledge. His research interests include disease biology modeling and biomarker identification. He is also a Principal at Highlight Health Media, which publishes Highlight HEALTH, and lead writer at Highlight HEALTH.