Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Northwest Arkansas Times reports on meeting of the Telecom Board's policy subcommittee

Subcommittee creates plan to keep forums on Government Channel
BY MARSHA L. MELNICHAK Northwest Arkansas Times
Posted on Thursday, August 7, 2008

The next step for possible policies for Fayetteville’s Government Channel is a trip to the city attorney’s office.
The city’s Telecommunications Board subcommittee on the use and programming of the Government Channel agreed Tuesday that it was time to move ahead. The subcommittee is deciding what should go to the Telecom Board so the Telecom Board can decide what should go to the Fayetteville City Council for consideration. The plan is to present a policy document to the council by the end of the month.
While there were still changes to be made when the meeting ended, the consensus was the document could be finalized soon so Chairman Aubrey Shepherd could take it to City Attorney Kit Williams before the Telecom Board’s meeting later this month. That meeting may be held Aug. 28.
“ The purpose of this policy is to establish (a ) the criteria for which Governmental entities and related organizations are eligible to have programming on the channel and (b ) allow the Government Channel staff to operate without determining the programming content, ” states the document compiled by Marvin Hilton, the city’s former cable administrator.
It states that the Government Channel is not a public access channel and will televise only programs that are directly related to government.
As proposed by the subcommittee, the Government Channel would continue to air candidate and issue forums, with detailed attention to definitions and criteria.
Six criteria are identi- fied for what the subcommittee refers to as a limited public forum. Among them are “ equal opportunities” to appear and a “ free exchange of ideas. ”
If the proposed policy is adopted by City Council, two aldermen or 20 registered voters in Fayetteville could request an issue forum.
Williams has said in the past that he doesn’t think issue forums should be aired on the Government Channel. That led to forums being pulled from production and, finally, to the council asking the Telecom Board for advice on any potential policy changes regarding forums.
The city attorney has said the forums are not illegal or unconstitutional, but he also said he had freedom of speech concerns about limiting the content or viewpoints expressed in the forums.
To solve that problem, the subcommittee will recommend a “ fairness committee” that could respond to a variety of questions and issues.
According to the proposed policy, “ The ‘ fairness ’ committee will 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. ”
The five-member fairness committee could also be called on to determine if programs submitted by others meet “ minimum technical and broadcast aesthetic standards. ”
Hilton gave as an example someone who had an obscene picture on the wall behind the speaker or a light that glared into the camera.
Other aspects of the document refer to matters of time, such as when and how requests for programming must be made, when programs will and won’t appear, and who can request what kinds of programs.
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