Monday, August 2, 2010

Marvin Hilton's comments on the draft version of proposed government-channel policy submitted by members of the city staff

Marvin Hilton’s comments on the Draft Version (see full title below)
Submitted by Fritz Gisler, Manager of The Fayetteville Government Channel 06.09.10:


Draft Version 06/09/10”


1.       There are basically two kinds of Government Channels across the country:

a.       Those that are controlled by the executive branch (Mayor and/or City Staff) with a policy written by the City Staff, such as this “Draft Version” which is basically a government executive branch staff stating how it will cover itself. 

b.      Those that have a policy written by a third party, Legislative Body, such as our Telecommunications Board of volunteer citizens, that requires the government to be transparent and mostly content neutral.

c.       Executive Branch (Mayor and Staff) controlled government channels are much more common. This policy “Draft Version,” which was written by the Staff of the executive branch of the government, will tend to move the Fayetteville Government Channel into the executive branch government controlled category. Such Government controlled channels tend to become promotional departments of their government with little transparency and not much citizen participation.     

d.      The Fayetteville Government Channel policy has, until the most recent years, been written by the Telecommunications Board.  This has helped the channel to be transparent and content neutral for most of its recent years.  One of the main features that creates this true transparency is a policy that allows citizens to request certain programs to be produced. This feature is not present in the “Draft Version” being discussed here. 

2.      Much of this “Draft Version” is actually “operating procedures” and could be used, with some major adjustments, as a good start in writing some operating procedures to carry out the policy written by the Telecommunications Board.

3.      Much of this “Draft Version” policy is about “informational programs” which the Telecom Board’s proposed policy clearly gives the City Staff discretion to produce, after other higher programming priorities are met. In contrast to this “Draft Version,” the Telecom Board’s proposed policy clearly states program priorities.

4.      Program requests from citizens (the customers) have never been a problem.  The much greater problem is apathy.  The Telecom Board’s proposed policy and the policy now in effect, which enables citizens to request programs, will help overcome apathy.  Perhaps an additional policy clause to require live meetings to include citizen participation from their living rooms, via email and phone, would also help overcome apathy.  One of the most successful companies in the world has a cheer that goes, “Who's number one? The customerAlways!”  The customers, in this case, are the citizens of Fayetteville.

5.      This policy “Draft Version” leaves much of the programming content to the “discretion of the “Channel Manager.” This is in direct contrast to the present Fayetteville Government Channel policy which states, “allow the Government Channel Staff to            operate without determining program content.”  For example, much of the “Draft Version” policy, concerning election programming and controversial issues is left to the discretion of the Channel Manager.  Issue forums and candidate forums are more clearly stated in the Telecom Board’s proposed policy and leaves few such policy decisions to the discretion of the Channel Manager.

Examples of Content determination by Government Staff from this “Draft Version” policy written by the executive branch government staff are as follows:

a.       Coverage of official meetings of other City of Fayetteville government boards, commissions and agencies will be at the discretion of the Channel Manager...

b.      Coverage of special … meetings shall be based upon staff and facility limitations.

c.       The Fayetteville Government Channel is not required to cover meetings in which no official business may be conducted due to lack of quorum, agenda or any other factor.

d.      The Fayetteville Government Channel may provide television programming pertaining to elections held in the Fayetteville – Washington County area.  The scope and format of such coverage shall be determined by the Channel Manager.

e.       The Channel Manager will determine if balancing [of controversial programs] is required.

6.      The section on Appeals/complaints almost leaves the Telecommunications Board out of the process and is not in accordance with the Telecom Board Ordinance, which lists one of the duties as, “Facilitate dispute resolution concerning PEG channels, including but not limited to operations, program content, etc; track complaints filed by citizens to assure that telecommunications providers are responding to complaints in an effective and timely manner.”

7.      Mayor Lioneld Jordan, in his 2010 State of the City Address said, “We have made significant strides to improving open government, expanding public information, empowering citizen input, and providing for transparency and accountability.” This policy “Draft Version” contradicts the Mayor’s statement and is a significant stride back toward an Executive Branch Government (Mayor and/or Staff) controlled Government Channel.

8.      In contrast to this “Draft Version” policy, the Government Channel Policy passed from the Telecommunications Board Government Channel Policy Subcommittee of 05.06.10, has much more clarity and specificity in creating a transparent and participatory government.  It also contains many policy elements that have been refined and in use by the Fayetteville Government Channel for about 10 years.    

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