Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Northwest Arkansas Times questions Telecom board's effort to clarify policies of government


Times Editorial : TV worth watching?
Northwest Arkansas Times
Posted on Friday, August 8, 2008
URL: http://www.nwanews.com/nwat/Editorial/67897
The Government Channel on Fayetteville’s cable system has been a home for years to a variety of programs, from live airing of City Council meetings to rebroadcasts of concerts in Gulley Park. City Attorney Kit Williams had come to the conclusion that forum discussions (often starring a quality cast thoughtfully discussing community topics ) ought to be moved to Community Access Television.
Why ? Although he doesn’t believe these forums are unconstitutional, Williams worries they could expose the city to litigation by someone who feels their views are not represented. Since CAT permits anyone to produce a program, putting forums on public access and leaving the Government Channel for very specific uses, the city’s litigation exposure would be reduced, Williams says.
Forums have never been an issue in the past, but Williams says he wants to prevent this from turning into a problem in the future.
Williams ’ concerns led to handing off the debate over the matter to the Telecommunications Board, which appointed a subcommittee that suggests the Government Channel should only televise programs directly related to government. They include in that advice the continued airing of candidate and issues forums, the latter of which would seem to fly in the face of the city attorney’s concerns.
To deal with that, the subcommittee suggests the creation of a “ fairness committee” that would work to make sure issues-oriented programming appearing on the Government Channel would be fair and balanced and free of “ partisan elements. ”
A government-created fairness committee ? Just the sound of it makes one cringe. Do we also need a purity committee ? A truth committee ? Don’t the well-intentioned folks behind this idea realize that with every extra detail that attempts to keep forums on the Government Channel they’re actually proving the city attorney’s point about the difficulty of limiting content and his preference for seeing public forums shipped off to public access ?
From the beginning, Williams has advocated keeping the shows on the Government Channel limited to meetings, meetings and more meetings, and forums for candidates seeking public office. That simplifies things a lot. And while the government issues forums of the past have been informational, are they worth setting up a whole new layer of government appointees to establish fairness of content ? No.
We never saw the harm of the government issue forums being broadcast on Channel 16, but today it’s hard to see the harm of shifting these forum productions to the Community Access Television station on Channel 18, then letting CAT producers (which any citizen can become ) produce the forums they want. That would be preferable to setting up a government bureaucracy on determining “ fairness. ”
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