Commercial-Free TV seen through long-range lens
New York — ''PBS is a vital part of the telecommunications environment of the future. It must be safeguarded.''
So says James H. Quello, a member of the Federal Communications Commission and chairman of the Temporary Commission on Alternative Financing for Public Telecommunications, a group created by Congress.
Mr. Quello, whose background includes 28 years in broadcasting, makes no bones about his strong belief in public broadcasting. ''There is a real need in America for the unique services offered by public broadcasting. I see it as growing and expanding, despite the current financial problems.''
Does the commissioner believe that corporate America is doing its part and can be counted on to do more in the future?
''Big business tends naturally to tighten its belt when the economy is rough, as it is now, but as soon as things get back on track, I expect corporate America will underwrite much more than it does now.''
Does he feel that PBS should be doing a better job in certain areas? ''It has been criticized for not doing enough public affairs broadcasting, but I think what it has been doing is excellent. I would call public affairs a unique specialty of PBS. One thing people forget: PBS led the way in satellite distribution of TV programming.
''Now I believe it has the expertise to get involved in television services other than traditional broadcasting. There are opportunities for producing revenue in a wide range of data services.''
Quello believes the recent experiment allowing expanded versions of underwriter identification on the air may be the only acceptable form of advertising that will not alter the character of the service. ''I think we have to make certain that nothing modifies the general nature of public broadcasting, '' he says firmly.
He speaks out boldly, however, about future funding methods other than advertising. ''There is nothing immediate to replace federal funding. But if we are not going to have federal funding for PBS in the future there are practical means we must start applying to reduce and possibly eliminate the need for indefinitely continuing federal funding. They will require positive legislation, which may be difficult to get enacted. The most viable alternatives would be (1) a tax credit for contributions to public broadcasting and (2) an excise tax on the sale of new television and radio receivers.''
He believes a tax credit would be the most efficient means, with the public donating funds directly to PBS or to special broadcast projects. The excise tax, he contends, would be a fair and relatively painless way to raise money. It would be a one-shot tax on new sets. Last year, at least 16.6 million television sets were produced in the United States.
''Whatever the means of raising revenue for PBS, and I suspect it may be several simultaneous methods, the most important thing is that the character of public broadcasting not be altered,'' he says.
''It is the people's only alternative to the mass-appeal programming of commercial television. Americans deserve the quality programming provided by PBS. All of us in government owe it to the public to make certain public broadcasting survives intact.''