STATION TO STATION
By Allison Romano -- Broadcasting & Cable, 9/25/2005 8:00:00 PM
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TV Brouhaha In Iowa
TV Brouhaha In Iowa Every few weeks, 15 or so Cedar Rapids, Iowa, residents huddle at the library to plot another attack on one of the country's biggest TV- station owners. Iowans for Better Local TV is taking aim at the Sinclair Broadcast Group, which operates 60 stations nationwide, including local CBS affiliate KGAN. Frustrated by what the group says is inadequate local-news and community involvement, they are noisily pressuring Sinclair.
“We want to put Iowa values back into the product,” says Arron Wings, one of the group's founders. “We want [the] local aspect back in their news and more connection to the local community.”
Iowans for Better Local TV (ILBTV) is circulating petitions and explaining their position to the media, and even considering filing a petition with the FCC to deny KGAN's license renewal. And when FCC commissioners Michael J. Copps and Jonathan Adelstein visit Iowa City for a town-hall meeting on the future of media on Oct. 5, IBLTV members plan to further vent their frustrations.
KGAN, like most Sinclair stations, mixes locally created news with mass-produced fare from its centralized newsroom, NewsCentral. One feature is “The Point,” a nightly editorial by Sinclair PR head Mark Hyman. Critics say Hyman's editorials are a way for the company to push a right-wing agenda over public airwaves. In eastern Iowa, viewers see Hyman on KGAN's 10 p.m. news and also on a Sinclair-produced newscast on the local Fox affiliate KFXA.
Iowans for Better Local TV originated last fall, outraged by Sinclair's airing of the documentary Stolen Honor, which called into question presidential candidate John Kerry's Vietnam service and subsequent antiwar activities. In advance of its broadcast, Wings, his wife Trish Nelson and several other angry citizens called on local advertisers to boycott the station.
Around the same time, Ted Remington, then a professor at the University of Iowa, was also taking on Sinclair. Last summer, he began e-mailing rebuttals to Hyman's editorials, but when he failed to hear back, Remington started a blog called The Counterpoint ( thecounterpoint.blogspot.com) to publish his responses. “Given how wide an audience Hyman has, it is important for someone to routinely call him on that,” says Remington. “He is being forced on local viewers.”
A WAR OF WORDS
Both sides have been parrying ever since. In a segment about college educators, Hyman included statements he said Remington made about plagiarism, including one that said committing plagiarism does not harm students. Remington refuted the claim on his blog, and it was pulled off Sinclair Web sites.
The incident galvanized the community. Nelson said IBLTV requested a meeting with KGAN's news director but was rebuffed. Nelson also contacted Remington about joining forces. His blog now appears on the group's Web site, ibltv.org, and Remington says traffic is up to 100 hits per day since partnering.
KGAN General Manager Joe Denk referred B&C's interview requests to Hyman, who did not respond.
IBLTV is also partnering with a media expert who happens to live locally. Former FCC Commissioner Nick Johnson, who served on the commission from 1966 to '73 and is now a University of Iowa law school professor, is well known for his objections to big-media ownership. Johnson says this is a case study for a nationwide problem: “When you cut back on requirements for news, community involvement and public affairs, there are consequences on communities like Cedar Rapids that are pretty ugly.”
With Johnson's help, the group is monitoring KGAN's news and amassing petitions. While he admits the FCC won't likely revoke Sinclair's license, Johnson says the mission is nonetheless raising awareness about a pressing problem. “Here are folks that are taking action,” he says. “Station owners have no right to [automatically] have their license renewed.”
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