(Note: In 1994, I helped organize an open public meeting at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago Film Center Theater with a WTTW executive. It was the first such meeting in 15 years. We used an open mike for the questions. No cards. Nobody's questions or comments were edited, summarized, or dropped.)
A few facts about public broadcasting:
* Full public accountability of major U.S. public broadcasting outlets is exceedingly rare.
* All decisions made by the station-selected public tv and public radio community advisory boards are by law non-binding.
* Like most all public outlets, the (controlling) boards of trustees of both WTTW and WBEZ are neither member elected or publicly elected.
At Thursday June 14th's first-ever joint WBEZ-FM | WTTW-TV public broadcasting community advisory board "public meeting", we found out that "public input" was to be only via written cards that were then subject to editing.
First I wrote "Please read my entire question out loud:" followed by
"U.S. public tv and radio are disastrous failures. This is particularly true considering the lies of ommission and commission both stations broadcast during the runup to the unwarranted U.S. invasion of Iraq (and Iran?), the trillions of dollars lost there and the unaddressed human needs resulting. So your ideas and prose don't really matter. Will the advisory boards demand stations WTTW and WBEZ each be controlled by a member elected board of trustees?
But the event's emcee Thom Clark (co-founder of the event's sponsor Community Media Workshop, a public relations "bootcamp") magically changed my question into the nicer sounding "can the board of trustees be elected?"
Sounds quite different, doesn't it, without the first part?
WTTW trustee Roger Plummer replied to my edited question with something about how "the trustees don't feel unaccountable."
And WBEZ said nothing.
Later, when it became clear my full question was not going to be read, I interrupted:
"Thom, why did you butcher my question? Why did you leave out the parts about Iraq, Iran, the trillions, all the bleeding and dying people? I'm here with Chicago Media Action and I'm representing a lot of people. (slowly, with a pretty intense anger) How dare you! I want my question fully asked and answered. I'm going to give you another chance now to read my question - read the whole question I gave you.
(Thom Clark) "No Scott. It wasn't appropriate."
(Me) You're a lapdog Thom.
Throwing my shoe at him might have made my point too.
WBEZ advisory chair Claudia Freed then said something about "no personal attacks" but as she said those words, I mimicked her voice tone - "Myah myah nah nah mya nah."
Though the meeting was otherwise boring and pointless, catch the last few minutes if you want when it is shown on CAN-TV Chicago access. I think now if Chicagoans want, they can ask their own questions to the public broadcasters without any filters.
Start getting your questions ready. I hear community town halls across the country on the subject of public broadcasting are being planned by media reformers. People are very upset about a lot of things these days, and media is high on most lists.
This entry was posted by Scott Sanders, a co-founder to date of seven Chicago area media and democracy activist groups.
Sanders has worked for long stretches in social science research, in the creation of video documentaries, as a librarian, and also in movie theater management.
You can link to Scott's combined curriculum vitae, timeline, and resume here.
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