Thursday, June 19, 2008

A citizen's draft of a potential government channel policy


a. ORDINANCE 4504: “The goal is to create an informed and involved citizenry.” & “…provide information about… issues faced by local governments.”
b. RESOLUTION 2746 “…is intended to…help create an open and participatory local government.”
c. TWO TYPES OF GOVERNMENT CHANNELS: Government channels across the country tend to be of two types. One type has its programming ultimately controlled by the City Administration. The other type has its policy written by a body somewhat removed form the City Administration, in order to maintain some independence from the City Administration. The Fayetteville Government Channel, up to this point in time, clearly has the latter intention.
d. GOVERNMENT ONLY: All programming is intended to be an expression of or about local government concerns. Up to this point in time, this has been adhered to with few problems.
e. ISSUE FORUMS SINCE 1992: The Fayetteville government channel policy, since its inception in 1992 has included a provision for issue forums.
f. ULTIMATE AUTHORITY: The City of Fayetteville, as the local franchising authority, is ultimately responsible for ensuring that the programming is unbiased and nonpartisan on the government channel and that the programming on the public access channel is an unfettered expression of citizen’s first amendment rights. Therefore the government can ensure that issue forums only on the government channel are unbiased.
g. PUBLIC ACCESS AND ISSUE FORUMS: One of the reasons for having a policy that enables citizens to request Issue Forums to be produced is that it will enable every citizen, regardless of their skills or resources, to see certain issues discussed/and or debated concerning government issues. Not everyone has the ability and /or money to pay CAT to have an issue forum produced. Equal opportunity is not the same as equal capability. People can speak on public access “short takes” and similar programs, but that is entirely different than speaking on a balanced issue forum with planned questions, a moderator and speakers of differing viewpoints.
h. CITY REQUESTS: Issue forums were originally specified by the government channel policy to give citizens the opportunity to request discussion of government issues at city hall that elected officials otherwise would not want to discuss.
i. UNBIASED: Issue forums are required to be unbiased and balanced on the government channel and there have been no citizen complaints in this regard. In fact there has been a greater tendency for partisan and nongovernmental elements to creep into “informational” programs.
j. ADVERSARIAL ELEMENT: As witnessed by the Arkansas FOIA, there is a natural tendency for some adversarial element to exist between government and the media. For this reason the decision for which FOIA meetings are to be televised should never lie solely with the government, but always have the possibility of decisions by citizens. This has been borne out by several instances where committees and boards have decided at some point that there was “no good reason” to televise their meeting and they have, in effect, “unrequested” them. This is the reason for the “citizen’s request” clause in the policy.
k. CONTROL OF PROGRAMMING CONTENT: If the City staff makes the decisions on which programs will be produced, based on a long list of priorities, it will effectively give control of the programming content to the City Administration.
l. STAFF FOLLOWS POLICY: It should be made sufficiently clear that the telecom board will recommend a policy to the City Council for their approval. And that the City Administration and the Government Channel staff will operate the channel by following the policy just as other ordinances and resolutions are followed.


1. DEFINITION OF PROCEDURES: All items that are policy will be included in the policy as apposed to arbitrarily calling them “procedures.” “Procedures are only those items that can be changed without significantly affecting the programming content.
2. WHO IS AUTHORIZED TO REQUEST: How all types of programs are requested (initiated) and who is authorized to request them shall be clearly specified in the policy with no exceptions.
3. CITIZEN PETITION REQUEST: Included in the “requesting” policy will be a provision for a certain number of citizens, perhaps 20, to request issue forums on subjects pertinent to the local government.
4. CITIZENS CAN REQUEST ANY FOIA MEETING: Citizens shall be enabled to request coverage of any FOIA criteria meeting of any governmental entity with jurisdiction which includes Fayetteville.
5. REPLAYS: Citizens shall be enabled to request replays of any FOIA meeting or Issue Forum.
6. DELINEATION OF COORDINATION: The policy shall clearly delineate the coordination of informational programs which allow citizen participation. This will recognize that “round table” discussions and meetings are, at present, most effectively and efficiently produced at the PEG center studio. It will also recognize that citizen discussions that take place at the library, Council of Neighborhood meetings and other venues are already being televised on the Government Channel.
7. FAIRNESS COMMITTEE: A “fairness” committee will monitor all Government Channel programming for adherence to the policy, especially to see that forums are balanced and “informational” programs are free from partisan elements. Provisions will be made that will allow any citizen, whether elected official, staff or committee member, to submit any Government Channel program to the committee and receive a prompt fairness determination. In the event that it is determined that a program was improperly biased, proper action will be taken, such as allowing the “opposition” to have equal time for a rebuttal.
8. POLICY POSTED: The Government Channel policy shall be posted where all citizens can readily access it.

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