Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Explanation of policy changes

(Compiled by Marvin Hilton, July 12, 2008)



1. “Intent is to further define ‘Limited Public Forum’ by changing the terminology to ‘Moderated Public Forums.”

2. Alternative Comment & recommendation: The question is, does the term “moderated” lend more clarity, especially in a legal sense? The term “Limited Public Forum” has been in use by many cities, including Fayetteville, for a long time as indicated in the definition below from the City of University Place, WA:

Limited Public Forum: Sub-category of a designated public forum that “refers to a type of non-public forum that the government has intentionally opened up to certain groups or to certain topics. It is permissible for governments to impose
restrictions that are viewpoint neutral and reasonable in light of the purpose served by the forum.

Before making this change, the legal terminology needs to be ascertained.

3. “Justification is to ensure that forums are limited to candidate debates and ballot issues.”

Alternative comment: This actually changes the policy from allowing forums on all subjects concerning government to only those on the ballot. This does not follow the open, involved and participatory spirit of the Telecom Board ordinance and the Government Channel policy currently in effect. The alternative changes below will maintain that spirit.

4. “Justification to ensure that programming on the Government Channel is specific to government activity with regard to meetings, policy formation, services.”

Alternative comment: This does narrow the possibilities of what governmental concerns can be communicated to the public during issue forums but does not ensure that “informational” programs will not contain elements of partisanship and subjects that have little or no pertinence to local government. The problem of inappropriate subjects has been much greater with such “informational” programs than with issue forums.

5. Description of Change: Requires a new committee to oversee all public forums.

Alternative Comment: Such a committee should help ensure that forums are properly conducted according to policy. “This idea has been expanded in the Alternative Suggestions below, which suggests that a “Fairness Committee” could also monitor “informational” programs to ensure that those programs also follow policy.


1. Intent is to Clarify that any government meeting is eligible to be televised on the Government Channel, regardless of the format and to specifically allow the televising of official government meetings conducted in any format such as “round table” or forum.

2. Alternative Comment: This should help clarify that any government meeting can be televised, regardless of the physical format or the location and is included in the alternative suggestions below.

3. Alternative Question: Since this is a clarification and not an actual change in policy that affects program content, shouldn’t the two “round tables” about FHS and the Walton Arts Center that were requested by an Alderman be allowed under this policy suggested here and the present policy in effect?


1. Alternative Comments: The Bell proposed changes do clarify that the physical format of a meeting doesn’t affect whether or not a meeting is covered and narrows the subject matter of forums to “ensure that programming on the Government Channel is specific to government activity.” And the suggested committee will help ensure that forums are conducted according to policy.

2. However it violates the spirit of the citizen requested forums, leaves some items that are clearly policy as “procedures” and makes an ambiguous statement that, “Citizen driven requests and concerns are handled through the normal course of business” which is vague.

3. Also nothing addresses the possibility that “informational” programs will contain inappropriate elements and that much of the content is controlled by government with only minimal involvement and influence by citizens.

4. The following Alternative Suggestions are meant to be a further clarification of the policy and following more closely ordinance 4504 and create a good balance of citizen input.



1. A Government Channel this is directly answerable to the viewers (the governed tax payers) and helps create an open and participatory government and also allows the local government to express itself .


1. ORDINANCE 4504 states that the “The goal is to create an informed and involved citizenry.” & “…provide information about… issues faced by local governments.”

2. RESOLUTION 27-06 states that the government channel “…is intended to…help create an open and participatory local government.”

3. To avoid having a Government Channel with programming content produced solely at the discretion of the government.


1. Retain a definition of issue forums that clearly allows forums to be held on various governmental topics of concern to the Fayetteville community. Since the City Attorney has declared the present forums to be “Constitutional and legal” the traditional term “Limited Public Forum” is probably best, for example the definition below:

Limited Public Forum: Sub-category of a designated public forum that “refers to a type of non-public forum that the government has intentionally opened up to certain groups or to certain topics. It is permissible for governments to impose restrictions that are viewpoint neutral and reasonable in light of the purpose served by the forum.

2. Use the issue policy wording from the July 2004 version of the Government Channel policy, which defines and describes “limited public forums” in detail. Where necessary, refine the definition and description that will best clarify and will be legally sound.

In the phrasing, which describes issue forums, make the following changes striking the words “any cause” and adding the words a partisan and, concerning governmental matters, creating the new wording below:

Declared candidates for any public office, and persons advocating any cause, a partisan viewpoint, or proposed policy of a particular nature, concerning governmental matters will be eligible to appear only in a limited public forum venue.

Add the phrase to the policy introduction: “The Fayetteville Government Channel is not a public access channel and will televise only programs that are directly related to government.”

3. Justification: This will retain flexibility and allow issues that are of pressing concern to local governments to be discussed publicly and fairly with all sides represented. It will also clarify that the Government Channel is not another public access channel and is only about government issues and concerns, which seems to have been one of the main justifications for Bell’s changes.


1. Move the items that were removed from the July 2004 policy and then written as “procedures” back into policy. Define procedures as items that can be changed without significantly affecting the content of programming. An example of such procedure would be how requests are received, whether by phone, written, email and etc.

2. Justification: This will clear up much confusion that has existed since the policy was revised in February of 2006. The government channel policy has been discussed for hours and hours using untold staff, board members time and TV time. Much of this confusion was caused by leaving who can request issue forums silent in the policy.


1. Clarify that elected officials and other government representatives are authorized to request (initiate) all types of programs, including informational, meetings and Limited Public Forums that concern the governmental body that they represent.
Justification: Eliminate questions about who can request which type of program and to inform all local government representatives how they can use the Government Channel to express the concerns and activities of the governmental body that they represent.

2. Clarify that citizens are authorized to request any FOIA meeting of any governmental body with jurisdiction that includes Fayetteville and that Citizens are not authorized to request “informational” programs.

Justification: This parallels the FOIA laws and can be considered the electronic version of “open meetings.”

3. Reinstate the policy from July 2004 that authorizes Citizens to request “Limited Public Forums” with the exception that 20 citizens, instead of five, will be required to make such a request.

Justification: This allows citizens to see government issues that they are concerned about discussed in public and encourages government officials to discuss issues that they might not otherwise discuss. Twenty citizens instead of five will lend more representation and legitimacy. It is also in the spirit of the first amendment of the US constitution where it says that citizens shall have the right to petition the government. In addition it encourages citizens to be involved and participate in government. All of these items are called for in the Telecom Board ordinance and present policy.

Further justification and Public Access: 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. Also Issue forums are cannot be required to be fair and balanced on Public Access but must be balanced on the Government Channel.


1. The Telecommunications Board shall establish a Fairness Committee to
monitor all Government Channel programming for adherence to the policy regarding coverage, priority and procedure. This committee will monitor forums to see that they are fair and balanced and that “informational” programs are free from partisan elements.

Provisions shall 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 shall be taken, such as allowing the “opposition” to have equal time for a rebuttal.

2. Justification: This expands on Bell’s idea of a committee to monitor forums and addresses the possibility that “informational” programs will contain inappropriate elements, which has actually been a much greater tendency than inappropriate elements appearing in forums.


1. Include definitions of key items, such as:

• Partisan
• Nonpartisan
• Informational

2. Justification: To clarify and avoid misunderstandings.


1. Should the Government Channel Policy be an ordinance rather than a resolution?

No comments: