Tuesday, October 7, 2008

NOBODY has suggested turning the Government Channel into a community-access station. Read the policy document created by the Telecom policy committee

Policy document prepared during a series of meetings in July, August and September 2008 by the Telecom Board's policy committee
The Morning News

Local News for Northwest Arkansas
Televised Forums Spark Debate
By Skip Descant
The Morning News
FAYETTEVILLE - It's still not clear if issue and candidate forums will make their way to the Fayetteville Government Channel's prime time.
But after months of study, the topic is expected to be hotly debated at tonight's Fayetteville City Council meeting. The item was briskly yanked from last week's council consent agenda session, when practically every council member pushed the issue to open debate.
Moderated public forums involving candidates and ballot issues would be recorded and broadcast by the government channel, according to the proposed new policy. The moderator must be a nonpartisan group such as the League of Women Voters, "and will be overseen by a public forum committee, responsible for considering the issue representation with regard to participants, content and format."
Nancy Allen, a council member from Ward 2 who is not seeking re-election, raised the question of having the government channel record and broadcast a Ward 2 candidate forum. The request came from a citizen group, Allen said.
The request was denied because the group did not fall under the umbrella of city government. Allen asked last week how this topic differed from some of the more innocuous programming she's seen on the channel.
In the past, Allen has requested that issue forums about the future of Fayetteville High School or the Walton Arts Center be broadcast. Those requests were denied by the city because the discussion was not directly related to the workings of the city.
"How does that differ from showing animals in need of adoption?" Allen said. "Anyone could make an argument that walking around looking at flowers, shaking hands, that's not 'government.'"
Without directly naming him, Allen was referencing news conferences and other events called by Fayetteville Mayor Dan Coody, who has received much criticism alleging he's used the government channel as his own personal publicity agency.
"I see much more reason to debate those issues - Fayetteville High School and Walton Arts Center - than to show video of the mayor walking around the square," wrote Allen in an e-mail. "That borders on propaganda in my view."
Susan Thomas, public information officer for the city, and one of the architects of the proposed policy, has maintained that the channel can only be used by government and for government-related programming.
Thomas said a Fayetteville Council of Neighborhoods mayoral debate aired because the council is comprised of city-appointed members, meets at city hall and has city staff assigned to the group, therefore, it operates under the umbrella of the city.
"Any other organization, they don't get city staff, and they're not covered on a regular basis," Thomas told the council.
Citizen groups like the one Allen mentioned would be better served by Community Access Television, say officials. Allen admitted she had not contacted CAT.
The mayor has said repeatedly that the city council has the discretion to create the government channel in nearly any image it wishes. It only needs to write the appropriate policy and carry it out.
"If you want to turn the government channel into a community access television station, then just do that," Coody told the board last week.
Policy document prepared during a series of meetings in July, August and September 2008 by the Telecom Board's policy committee

Fayetteville City Council

When: 6 p.m. today

Where: Room 219, City Hall, 113 W. Mountain St.

Also on the agenda: Urban Design Associates, the Pittsburgh design firm responsible for the conceptual plan for SouthPass, will give a presentation.

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