Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Democrat-Gazette editorial supports Telecom Board subcommittee

Keep talking sense
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Northwest Edition
Posted on Tuesday, August 12, 2008
URL: http://www.nwanews.com/adg/Editorial/234056

somebody’s talking sense about the
future of the Government Channel in Fayetteville. That would be the subcommittee of the Telecommunications Board. The subcommittee is putting together proposed new policies for how the channel is to be used.
The board has been in an uproar for months now—ever since Susan Thomas, the unelected information czar of Fayetteville, killed one of the best and most popular features on the Government Channel, or at least sent it into a deep coma. We’re talking about the forums devoted to topics of public interest in town. Ms. Thomas called a halt to those forums after the city attorney—Kit Williams—wondered out loud about their possibly being unfair to somebody or other. The problems weren’t constitutional or legal, he added. But his reservations were enough for Ms. Thomas, whose formal job title at City Hall is public information officer. In this case, she’s acted to squelch public information by shutting down the forums. This is happening in Fayetteville—a city proud of its reputation for vigorous debate.
Now this subcommittee is working up some recommendations for public information in town, and the first one is that the public forums on the Government Channel be restored. To which we say: Hooray !
Ms. Thomas’ worries that the forums might be unfair never seemed well grounded in fact. Quite the contrary. For years, going back at least to 1992, these shows have provided worthwhile information on topics of interest to local residents. There haven’t been any significant complaints about the forums, which present all sides of an issue. What could be more fair than that ?
And what were the subjects of the two pending forums that were cancelled by Ms. Thomas ? Why, the future location of Fayetteville High School and possibly moving the Walton Arts Center out of town—two of the hottest local issues around. How can limiting discussion of them help inform the public ? Answer: It can’t—and it shouldn’t be allowed to. Not in the free republic of Fayetteville.
The subcommittee is still working on the specifics of the proposed new policy, but the ideas already put forth sound sensible: The channel is not to be considered a public access channel (there’s already one of those in Fayetteville ). Only programs directly related to government would be allowed on the Government Channel, specifically including forums for candidates and issues. A new committee on fairness would be established by the Telecom Board to resolve the kind of problems that Kit Williams had theorized about, and that have so unnerved Ms. Thomas.
The full board plans to take up the subcommittee’s recommendations later this month, then present the final version to the city council. Sounds democratic to us. A lot more so than the dictates of the city administration’s unelected minister of propaganda.
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