PBS’ Kerger champions public broadcasting to fortify community



Paula Kerger, president and CEO of PBS, recently returned home from a trip to Dublin, where she spoke on the impact of public broadcasters on vibrant communities. During two different radio interviews, she heard the now-infamous clip of Mitt Romney threatening to cut the government subsidy for PBS during his presidential campaign.

“I have to tell you, hearing it in another country being played back was even more stunning,” she said.

At her 10:45 a.m. morning lecture today in the Amphitheater, Kerger will discuss how public television ties into the notion of the pursuit of happiness and how it is a worthy aspiration on a national scale.

[Read Kerger’s guest column here]

It may be difficult to find a bigger proponent of public broadcasting. Kerger was a PBS kid herself — she loved shows like The Six Wives of Henry VIII and Elizabeth R. She still remembers the first ballet she ever saw, which was broadcast on public television.

“When I had a chance to be working on public television, I felt that it was part of something that had been a part of my life since as long as I can remember,” she said.

Kerger sees public broadcasting as a positive force.

“If you’re trying to understand what is the glue that holds us together, communication can play such an extremely important role,” she said.

She points to PBS programs such as “NewsHour” and “Frontline” that inform citizens about important issues of the day.

Kerger also connects the pursuit of happiness to personal achievement and lifelong learning. PBS programming allows viewers to explore — they can wander the world, learn to cook or receive lessons from a big yellow bird.

“I think that there is a role that media can play,” she said, “and I think that as careful consumers of media … there’s a role that citizens play in their engagement with what is portrayed.”

She references data showing increased happiness among people who are engaged within their communities, as opposed to those who are more self-oriented.

“It’s more of a selfless effort of being able to reach beyond oneself and to serve others,” she said. “And I think that the satisfaction that’s derived from that is close to pure happiness as one can feel.”