Monday, May 19, 2008

They Talk, You Listen. No Questions.

Richard Drake said it first on his Street Jazz blog, but it deserves repeating. The Northwest Arkansas Times had an excellent editorial yesterday about our Government Channel and the moves going on to make sure that the city administration has control of all content by excluding citizen-initiated forums on issues related to local government.

The editors said, and we agree, "Fayetteville’s Government Channel (Cox Channel 16 in Fayetteville ) brings democracy into viewers’ homes in a way that few Arkansas communities can match. Besides regularly televising City Council meetings, the channel also gives gavel-to-gavel coverage of the Fayetteville Planning Commission and the Washington County Quorum Court, as well as a host of other committee meetings. The channel has been home to good programming about city services and informative forums that bring knowledgeable people together to talk over subjects deserving of a civil discussion....

"In the wake of the unexplained and unceremonious firing of longtime cable administrator
Marvin Hilton, who oversaw the Government Channel, decision-makers in Mayor Dan Coody’s administration now say they want a wholesale revamp of the policies of the Government Channel. Susan Thomas, a policy advisor to Coody, told the City Council she expected significant changes in the nature of the programming produced and broadcast by the Government Channel. Of course, in doing so, they’re proving what folks have long suspected: Government can’t leave something that works well alone."

What Mayor Coody and his administration want to squelch are those pesky "informative forums that bring knowledgeable people together to talk over subjects deserving of a civil discussion." Citizens might have something to contribute to the discussion of public policies in our community, but the PTB want them to be shuffled over to Community Access Television, something the editors said was "
like moving discussion forums off C-SPAN and putting them on MTV."

The real concern here is that Mayor Coody and his hirelings want to use the Government Channel not to inform but to advance their political agenda. Remember when Dan Coody wanted to raise taxes to pay for, among other things, cost overruns at the sewer plant? He ran a free political advertising campaign under the guise of an "educational effort." When he opposed the road impact fees and declared he would not be a cheerleader, there was no such educational effort. Fortunately, there was a citizen-initiated forum on the issue that included a spirited discussion and debate of the issue by Aldermen and concerned citizens on both sides.

If the City Council adopts a policy to abolish citizen-initiated issue forums, the public will be the real loser. I mean, how would you like to settle for policy discussions like this one starring Mayor Coody? That's what we would have, and we deserve better.

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