Monday, August 25, 2008

Northwest Arkansas Times says NO to Telecom board subcommittee's proposed fairness committee

Times Editorials : Overly complicated
Northwest Arkansas Times
Posted on Monday, August 25, 2008
To quote Tuesday’s edition, “ The Policies and Procedures subcommittee of the city’s Telecommunications Board is preparing a proposal that would establish a Fairness Committee to “ monitor all Government Channel programming for adherence to policy regarding coverage, priority and procedure. ”

For the record, this thoughtful proposal is a bad idea, one that needs to be dumped ASAP.

For years Fayetteville has been broadcasting informative issue forums on the Government Channel without incident. Several months ago City Attorney Kit Williams woke up and decided that these telecasts could be seen by some as unconstitutional, opening the city up to potential litigation from residents who believe their views aren’t being reflected.

Thus, it has been suggested that practically anything not directly related to governmental operations (city council and committee meetings, informational segments shining a light on local works programs, and possibly candidate debates ) should be kicked to the curb — and aired on Community Access Television, where the anything-goes style means First Amendment concerns would be much less of a concern.

At first we thought Williams and others were overreacting, presenting a solution where no problem existed. But the longer this debate goes on and the closer we inch to the establishment of a “ fairness committee” that intends to appoint monitors of what’s “ fair and balanced, ” the more the idea sounds overly and unnecessarily complex.

A fairness committee doesn’t solve the problems Williams is talking about — i. e., government deciding what is allowable and what isn’t. That’s exactly the sort of thing a fairness committee, appointed by the government, would be busy doing. Frankly, if this is the price the public must pay to leave issue forums and the like on the Government Channel, then we’re not interested.

This is a recipe for a committee (does Fayetteville really need yet another committee ?) that will be constantly in turmoil and producing plenty of conflict. Hey, that’d be great for news copy, we’re sure, but believe it or not, sometimes simplifying things really is the preferable route.

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