Forum issue goes to Telecom Board
BY MARSHA L. MELNICHAK Northwest Arkansas Times
Posted on Thursday, June 5, 2008
Council sends forum issue for Telecom Board advice, NWA Times says
June 3, 2008, City Council meeting archived video
Any potential changes in policy regarding forums on the Fayetteville Government Channel moved to the Telecommunications Board this week.
“ We in the council decided if there ought to be a change, why not let the people closest to the issue, which is the Telecom Board, let them come up with the proposed changes they come up with and then we’ll act upon them, ” Ward 3 Alderman Robert Rhoads said Wednesday.
Richard Drake, Telecom Board chairman, told the Fayetteville City Council that he thought the board could make a policy recommendation in August.
Jim Bemis of Fayetteville, one of the speakers at the council meeting Tuesday and a strong proponent of forums on the Government Channel, hopes to speed that process along through complaint and appeals.
Bemis said Wednesday he will ask for written explanations of the opinions of Susan Thomas, public information officer and policy adviser; and Kit Williams, city attorney; that led to stopping production of new forums and the airing of earlier forums.
“ It is all opinion. It’s not law, ” Bemis said.
“ My interpretation was that what we were doing was outside of the scope of council-approved policy, that the forums we were conducting did not fit that definition, so we stopped, ” said Thomas, who told Bemis in an e-mail that the council affirmed her decision.
“ I think many people had the impression, at least I did, that they would not continue with Susan making decisions for the council and the Telecom Board, but she’s saying she will continue to make the decision that there will be no forums until the Telecom Board comes back with a recommendation, ” he said.
Rhoads confirmed Thomas’ understanding of the council’s direction regarding the forums.
“ The real issue is that there’s definitely a policy on these forums and it’s been in existence for several years, ” he said. “ Susan was just enforcing the policy. ”
Ward 1 Alderman Brenda Thiel said the council asked the Telecom Board to review the policy and make recommendations for changes if they were needed “ so we can actually follow what’s written because we’re doing one thing and the policy says something else. ”
Bemis said he plans to go back to the Telecom Board with his complaint based on Thomas’ responses to his earlier complaint about stopping the forums.
“(I will ) take my complaint all the way through to the council and make them make a decision at least on the forums, ” he said. “ Otherwise it’s going to take another two or three years. ”
At Tuesday’s meeting, the council agreed that the Telecom Board is an advisory board.
Agreement on the forums or what should happen next were not so easy to come by.
Thiel said she thought forums could be shown on the city’s public access channel, Cable Access Television. Acknowledging that there is an argument for only showing forums about government issues on the Government Channel, she said the issue then is who determines what are government issues.
“ That’s what needs to be clarified by the Telecom Board, ” she said. “ Who’s going to make the decision of whether or not it actually is a city government issue ?”
Ward 2 Alderman Nancy Allen said she thinks that shedding light on city government is one of the primary functions of the Government Channel.
“ The forums I have seen on the Government Channel have been well balanced and enlightening, ” she wrote in an e-mail to the Times. “ They are informative. It is hard for me to believe that an exchange of ideas could be anything other than a positive. ”
“ I think everybody would agree: Let’s have a fair and balanced forum, ” Williams said. “ Nobody’s going to argue with that. The problem is how can you get there. Who is going to be the designated decider of what viewpoints fit that and what viewpoints do not ?
“ When it says they have to be fair and balanced on the Government Channel, that means if that was actually true, that somebody from the government would be saying, ‘ OK, you’re fair and balanced, but you over there that want to speak, you’re not going to speak because you’re not fair and balanced. ’ That’s exactly what the government can’t do is choose between different viewpoints. ”
His advice is to keep all advocacy off the Government Channel and have it “ just be a purveyor of unvarnished information, just what the government is doing, whether it’s good, bad or indifferent. ”
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