ERIK STEELE

MPBN — Saving the Voice of Maine

Posted May 30, 2011, at 6:48 p.m.

If I wanted to slowly pull Maine apart, the first thing I would do is silence the one voice that reaches all of us across this sprawling, special state, the voice that tells each of us that the rest of us are worth listening to, learning about and caring for. I would stop all of you from learning things together that suggest we are mostly decent people who are not much different despite our differences.

In other words, I would cripple the Maine Public Broadcasting Network by cutting its allocation — about one-fifth of its total funding — out of the state budget, as the governor has proposed to do. Then I would just stand back and let the forces of social, political and economic nature slowly pull Maine into fragments bound together by nothing other than Canada, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and 3,000 miles of Atlantic Ocean.

I would let the northern and Down East Maine just fall further off the face of the economic edge of the Earth from the south, and the coast fence itself off from the interior. The richer could then segregate themselves from the poorer, and the Mainiacs could buy out the Mainers. “Maine — the way stereotypes of each other should be” could be our motto.

Maine needs a unifying voice to tell all of us the stories about how these socially dismembering forces — a lousy economy, the huge state and federal budget cuts, the aging of our population, the withering of our rural economic bases, etc. — affect Maine people. The common understanding and identity that result help hold us together against the traction of hard times and tough issues.

That job falls first and foremost to the media in Maine, and in large part to MPBN. While every newspaper in Maine does its part, they primarily reach their regional audiences. TV and other radio media provide broad coverage to local audiences but it is only skin deep. Only MPBN reaches all of Maine in depth on a daily basis.

The stories and information MPBN provides also help keep us informed about complex issues when that’s never been more important. The network provides us with deep dive stories into the impact of school district changes, rising health care costs, what’s behind the politics in Augusta and Washington, why people believe what they believe, and much more. It digs past the rhetoric to find the facts, examine the issues and make sense out of contrary opinions. Heck, even people I disagree with sound smarter on MPBN, and sometimes smart enough to change my mind.

If we are to make good, informed decisions statewide and nationally we need that shared news and information. That kind of knowledge helps us beat back the tides of fear and self interest that rise when ignorance rules, challenge rhetoric and rumor with facts and thoughtful comments, and form opinions based on more than sound bites.

Moreover, without that kind of information “we the people” are less powerful, because good information is power, pure and simple. It, and participation in the political process, are the public’s only real leverage in a world where the rich, organized and connected have the advantage. Supporting MPBN and other great media sources is an act in defense of an effective democracy.

In exchange for doing that work, and functioning as Maine’s statewide emergency broadcasting system, and because it is required by state law to provide access to its radio and TV signals in every nook and cranny of our 35,385 square miles, MPBN gets $2 million annually from Maine taxpayers. (That money goes for reaching all of us through MPBN’s broadcast stations, transmitters and towers, and is less than the cost.) For about $2 a year in tax support per Maine resident, it’s a unifying, edifying, and enlightening helluva deal.

You can help keep us together and more influential where it counts by urging your state senator and representative to vote against proposed cuts to MPBN, the voice of Maine’s people. They wait to hear your voice atwww.maine.gov/legis/house/callleg.htm andwww.maine.gov/legis/senate/Contact-Us.html.

Erik Steele, D.O., a physician in Bangor, is chief medical officer of Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems.

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