'Bama Broadcast Battle, But Not About PBS


We wrote recently on the nasty row going on in Alabama Public Television, but there’s been another interesting ‘bama battle going on in the TV world there. New Vision’s WIAT Birmingham recently conducted a multi-part investigative report on what it sees as malfeasance on the part of The Retirement Systems of Alabama (RSA)–that its pension plans are in trouble (a “crisis of enormous proportions”), that some of its investments are foolhardy, and that it is funneling outsize advertising spend to some Raycom TV stations, which are owned by RSA.

RSA CEO David Bronner, he of the “aggressive and bulldozing style,” takes some body blows.

“When you’re depositing millions of dollars into tourism to advertise stations you own, to promote the investments you built, to make more money to put into tourism, you’ve created a circle of influence, designed, directed and deployed by David Bronner,” says one WIAT report late last month.

In one report, WIAT questions why the station’s state’s tourism department spent so much on the Raycom stations to promote the region after the BP oil spill. “In the documents acquired by the CBS 42 investigative team, BP ads were placed at Raycom television stations in and out of Alabama at a rate far above any competing station,” says the report.

In Birmingham, Raycom’s WBRC is a giant. According to BIA/Kelsey, WIAT, a CBS affiliate, was tied for No. 3 in revenue last year. Allbritton’s WBMA is No. 2.

Paul McTear, Raycom CEO, described the reports as “A station, or a general manager, who doesn’t like what happened and is making a legal case out of nothing.” He referred further comment to RSA’s general counsel, Leura Canary.

“We did not view the reports as unbiased or credible,” said Canary.

Bill Ballard, general manager at WIAT, said the reports had nothing to do with the amount of ad revenue WIAT did or did not get from the tourism board. He said RSA, holding the Raycom stations and a newspaper group, wields exceptional power in the southeastern US.

“It’s a powerful propaganda tool that would be envied by the likes of Vladimir Putin,” says Ballard.