Here is a letter CMA submitted to the Chicago Tribune Magazine in response to its article on WTTW.
TAKE BACK DEMOCRACY STOLEN BY WTTW
Chicago Media Action thanks the Chicago Tribune and writer Jim Kirk for the informative article "Running WTTW Into the Ground" (Chicago Tribune Magazine, 7/27). Through the remarkable degree of access Kirk achieved, the article documents over $10 million in blunders attributable to WTTW CEO Dan Schmidt. The law states that public TV and radio must "address the needs of the unserved and underserved audiences". Schmidt's millions of dollars in errors of judgement certainly do not address those needs. Congress understood that the airing of alternative perspectives is vital to the functioning of democracy. Unfortunately, however, crucial viewpoints, issues and solutions were left out of the article.
Mr. Kirk did not interview representatives of any media reform activist groups or relate the rich history of organized complaints against WTTW and WFMT, especially WTTW's 1995 warning from the Hundt-chaired Federal Communications Commission concerning its home shopping broadcasts and the unique commercialism fine it paid Kennard's FCC in 2000. Also absent from the piece were long-term solutions, including a national, independent public broadcasting trust to improve funding, and a station board of directors elected either by the membership or the public. And inexplicably, the article failed to update the ballooning accounting theft scandal. We eagerly await more followups and updates to the WTTW drama.
Perhaps the article's biggest omission is the fact that for eight months, WTTW has been rejecting our organization's proposals for two-hour, live, local, public issue forums with documentary features and panel discussions. Vital but under-addressed topics for the proposed forums include campaign finance reform, the health effects of depleted uranium munitions, and the PATRIOT Act's assaults on civil liberties. This proposal's genesis was a well-attended meeting back in March with top WTTW executives. Thirty-one citizens were present representing twenty-five peace and justice groups. This "We Interrupt Your Regularly Scheduled Programming Coalition" is under Chicago Media Action's aegis. Discussion with the station about the forums is now, however, at a standstill, with no films or topics put forward by us deemed acceptable. These sorely needed forums would cause little or no added financial drain. Once every few weeks, this in-studio production would simply preempt "Chicago Tonight" and re-direct personnel and resources thus freed up. Chicago Media Action continues to advocate for the forum series and will hold WTTW to its mission.
Chicago area citizens have every right to protest and be outraged: while the FCC was wrapping up huge deregulatory presents for bloated media conglomerates such as Fox and GE, WTTW's CEO Schmidt, who draws a salary of $280,000, was busy disrupting the lives of scores of dedicated workers through layoffs due in large part to his ineptitude. CEO Schmidt seems to have a penchant for wasting huge sums on things like the $2.1 million facility entryway and the failed "City Talk" magazine. The station's inability to deal responsively with the live film forums proposal is another key source of citizen ire.
Though the loss of millions of dollars by the overpaid and bungling corporatist regime at channel 11 is very unsettling, its theft of yet more of our shrinking democratic discourse creates an even greater debit. CEO Dan Schmidt and his chums in the executive suites and on the board of directors have proven repeatedly that they are not trustworthy stewards of either public account and ought to resign.
Public broadcasting can, somehow, sometimes, still be brilliant. The unusually broad-based surge of public and Congressional anger at the recent relaxation of media ownership rules by the Michael Powell-chaired FCC should be carefully directed towards public broadcasting reform too.
for Chicago Media Action
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