Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Bemis asks City Council to form committee to study telecommunication roles

City Council, Telecommunication Board, City
Administration --

This Times article (below) ought to clear things up.

But as mentioned in an earlier official
request/complaint to the Telecom Board , I've already
requested that the Council form an ad hoc subcommittee
to consider the various telecommunications roles
involved. That document should be coming to the
Council soon through the Board's regular appeal

Thanks for your consideration --

Jim Bemis
CAT producer


Channel debate has little common ground

BY MARSHA L. MELNICHAK Northwest Arkansas Times

Posted on Tuesday, June 3, 2008

URL: http://www.nwanews.com/nwat/News/65835

Volatile words and phrases like “ censorship,” “government control” and “freedom of speech” rifle
through public discussion on the role of the
Fayetteville Government Channel.

Drawing the line between censorship and freedom of
speech on the channel was a Fayetteville City Council
topic in September 2000, was brought up again in 2005
during policy discussions and most recently came
before the council during budget discussions at the
end of 2007.

Jim Bemis of Fayetteville, a former cable board
member, will ask the City Council tonight to set up a
special committee to discuss the role of the
Government Channel rather than the council discussing
it as the last item of a potential- ly long meeting.

“ I just think it deserves special attention and not
being shoved off to new business as the last item, ”
he said.

Both sides in the discussion support gavel-to-gavel
coverage of city meetings on the channel. Spokesmen
for both sides also agree it should not air advocacy
or promotion of any idea or issue.

Similarities end there.

They don’t agree about what either a forum or an
informational program is, and they don’t agree about
the role of the City Council or the role of the
Telecommunications Board.

Further, both sides argue that freedom of speech and
upholding the First Amendment to the U. S.
Constitution is best-served by their point of view.

Take, for example, the differences seen in Mayor Dan
Coody’s televised walks around the Fayetteville Square
for the Government Channel.

“ I tell you what Fred Hanna used to do which I wish
Coody would do. Hanna used to do his own show on the
Government Channel, ” said Richard Drake, Telecom
Board chairman. “ I’m not talking about this silly
walking around the Square, look at the pretty flowers
crap. Hanna would get in the studio and he would talk
to different aldermen or department heads and they
would talk about the work they do. ”

“ Basically the Government Channel’s best and highest
use is for government meetings and expressing to the
public the work the government is doing, ” Coody said

For him, that includes telling Fayetteville residents
about the work under way or being planned at the

“ If they’re concer ned about the mayor alerting the
public as to what kind of changes are going to take
place on public infrastructure, if people are
uncomfortable with that, that’s fine with me, ” he

Coody said things that directly affect governmental
operations and policies are fair game, in his opinion,
for the Government Channel. He said he’s learned that
it is important to keep residents informed about how
city money is being spent.

Street improvements and programs on recycling fall
into his definition of informational programs.

“ In my view, the bigger problems (than forums ) are
the so-called informational programs the mayor has
requested, ” Bemis said.

“ I like the idea of debates on the Government
Channel, especially when you have issues coming up, ”
Drake said. “ Of course, these things can be done on
(Community Access Television ) as well as the
Government Channel. With the Government Channel, you
have this feature that all sides have to be
represented. ”

While Drake’s statements suggest the Government
Channel can promote fairness by making sure that all
sides of an argument are heard in a forum, that is
exactly what the Government Channel cannot do,
according to City Attorney Kit Williams and Katherine
Shurlds, media law instructor at the University of

“ The First Amendment prevents government from
limiting the use of a public forum on the basis of the
viewpoint expressed, ” Williams wrote in a memo to the
mayor and council.

According to Shurlds, the public access channel is a
designated public forum, and therefore, the government
cannot control the content. However, content on the
educational and government channel can be controlled
under the First Amendment because they are not
designated public forums, she said.

“ Under most models for government access, we’re not
supposed to have that much say — for that matter any
say — over what goes on the city channel, ” she said.
“ That’s not for the public to decide, whereas on the
public access side, under the First Amendment, they
are designated public forums. They cannot make
decisions based on content. ”

“ The fear some of us have is if the Government
Channel is opened up to all uses, then anyone for any
purpose can use the Government Channel for their own
ends, ” Coody said. “ That includes elected officials;
it includes the KKK. At that point, you can’t stop
anyone from putting anything they want on the
Government Channel. ”

He said when the Government Channel is opened for
general community use, it loses its strength and “ you
just have two public access channels. ”

Shurlds, who has participated in some of the
roundtable discussions including the forum about
forums, said the Government Channel ought to be the
government voice.

“ One of the main reasons I think that’s true is that
when people tune into the Government Channel, if it is
just delivering government information, then they’ll
understand that’s the government speaking, ” she said.

She said it could be confusing to the public when
there are people on forums, for example, who are not
part of the government but who are talking about
things proposed by the city or being done by the city.

She said forums should be moved to Community Access

“ Then the people’s voice is on public access and the
government’s voice is on Government Channel, and we
know the difference when we tune in, ” she said. “ Let
me be clear: I think the forums and round tables are
terrific. I think the programming is excellent. It
just doesn’t belong on the Government Channel. ”

Shurlds said moving forums to the public access
channel is not censorship as has been suggested.

“ I do not see it as any kind of censorship at all, ”
she said. “ I see it as channeling information so that
it comes from a source that’s understandable. ”

Bemis said he thinks everything an alderman requests
should be on the Government Channel because it is city

According to former Cable Administrator Marvin Hilton,
public forums have been part of the Government Channel
since 1992.

The two forums that were stopped recently were about
the location of Fayetteville High School and the
Walton Arts Center.

Bemis argued that the decision on whether to broadcast
the forums is that of the Telecom Board.

“ They have not made a case for taking the forums off
because they have not indicated what their criteria
are for a forum, ” he said. “ They simply said they’re
not going to show them until they get some direction
from the council. I don’t give them the authority to
do that. I think that’s the Telecom Board’s authority.
They send the ordinance that way and they send the
policy that way. ”

In contrast, Shurlds used a school site forum as an
example of why forums should not be on the Government

“ If you are hiring government employees to run the
Government Channel and then they put a forum on that
says the high school ought to be located in Greenland
or something like that, then I’m going to be mad that
my taxpayer money is going to persuade people to do
something I don’t agree with, ” she said.
Copyright © 2001-2008 Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Inc.
All rights reserved. Contact: webmaster@nwanews.com

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Katherine, you mean like when Coody used the Gov Channel to tout the benefits of the road-improvement bill while it was still to be determined by a city-wide vote?

That looked like Gov. biz, but was his own propaganda machine.