Kirsten O'Brien/The AS Review

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The way in which people receive news is rapidly changing. People have gone from listening to radio programs, reading newspapers and watching events unfold on small black and white television screens to checking Internet news sites on their iPad and scanning Twitter for the latest gossip. However, one thing that has not changed is the role of publicly funded media outlets and their commitment to providing unbiased and informative news.

Western’s student chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists is hosting a discussion panel focused on publicly funded outlets, such as Corporation for Public Broadcasting and National Public Radio, and the role they play within society.

The panel will take place Feb. 24 at 5 p.m. in Communications Facility 125. Jamie Hoover, station manager at KUGS 89.3; Jennifer Karchmer, editor of Whatcom Watch and communication professor at Western; and Arvid Hokanson, assistant program director at KUOW 94.9, will speak about their experiences with publicly funded media outlets as well as answer audience questions. The event is free and open to the public.

CJ Huxford, Western’s SPJ coordinator, said via e-mail that both publicly and privately funded media outlets are essential to provide citizens with the news they need to be informed members of society. He added that discussing publicly funded media is particularly important because independent news outlets are disappearing.

“It is important to discuss the role of publicly funded media because it is a dying breed that is struggling to find a foothold market that can keep them economically solvent,” Huxford said. “All media is biased, but a healthy, diverse amount of media outlets, both public and private, is the only way to truly support an informed citizenry.”

He said that privately funded media outlets and media corporations that distribute news for profit have been largely consolidated, resulting in a loss of independent voices and viewpoints. He said that publicly funded media is a way to spread alternative viewpoints.

“Having another model of journalism was what the founders of the United States deemed essential to a thriving democracy,” he said.

Hokanson said that publicly funded outlets do not have to operate on time constraints due to commercial breaks like privately funded outlets do. This allows for more in-depth and investigative stories.

“Our goal is not to make a profit. We provide folks with in-depth journalism that should be asking tough questions,” he said. “We don’t have the time constraints as far as commercial breaks per hour, and because we don’t deal with ratings, we offer more of a venue for programming that wouldn’t be commercially viable.”

The topic is especially timely because of a bill proposed Rep. Doug Lamborn, which was presented to the House of Representatives on Jan. 5. If passed, the bill would amend the Communications Act of 1934 and would prohibit federal funding for public news and radio outlets after 2013.

“There has been talk recently about de-funding public media, and I think a lot of people who support that don’t understand what publicly funded media really is,” said Gina Cole, a member of SPJ’s Western chapter. “It seems to me that it’s important to have as diverse a media landscape as possible, and personally, I would rather we have both kinds of media, public and private. The more information that’s out there, the better.”

Cole said that people sometimes believe that publicly funded media is controlled by the government. While public media outlets do receive funding from the federal government, Cole said their source of funding does not limit the topics publicly funded media outlets can cover.

“[Publicly funded] doesn’t mean that the First Amendment just goes away, and that the government can exercise prior restraint on what is broadcast or published,” she said.

“There’s a difference between publicly funded and government-controlled. We have free press, and the government can’t pass a law saying what media can or cannot say or cover.”

Cole said that privately funded media has a slight advantage because it does not receive government funds, which allows it to act as a political watchdog without being fearful of repercussions. However, she said that publicly funded media can provide the same function: to inform citizens.

“If you get your money from the public, your loyalty is to the public,” she said.