Industry, Public Get Vocal About Local


A current broadcaster and ex-broadcaster provided very different views of the state of localism at a Portland, Me., hearing Thursday.

Steve Thaxton, president and GM WCSH-TV, and Portland resident Shelby Scott, a former New England anchor/reporter and former president of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, were among the witnesses at an FCC field hearing on localism, part of its ongoing review of media ownership rules.

Thaxton told his FCC commissioner audience that the station has a strong commitment to news and public service that has only been enhanced since Gannett bought the station in the late 1990's. He said that when Gannett bought the station in 1998, it was doing 25 hours of local programming and is now doing 37 hours.

He pointed to WCSH's  local access show, 207 (named after Maine's only area code), which he said was ranked number two in the market at 7 p.m. behind only Wheel of Fortune. He talked of the two locally produced HDTV specials the station had produced, the $2.8 million in airtime it had donated to nine major public service campaigns it had spearheaded, from food drives to arts festivals to volunteer recruitment drives.

He talked of the 135 staffers of various ethnicities and sexual orientations who were members of the community, who collected food for the hungry and clothes for the needy and coached sports teams, emphasizing the value he and they put on diversity.

On the other side of the picture was Scott, who said media consolidation, and in particular the potential lifting of the newspaper/broadcast crossownership rule, has been a disaster for localism. She warned that with Gannett owning a TV station in the market, allowing it to buy the only paper in town would likely lead to the recycling, repurposing and cross-promoting of content she says has been the case with Tribune and the papers and stations it owns in Chicago and Hartford (under a waiver of the FCC's crossownership ban). She also complained that a local marketing agreement had silenced an important minority radio voice in Boston.

"If a retired journalist like me can find these examples just by looking in my backyard here in New England," she said in prepared testimony she did not have time to finish delivering, "then there must be hundreds of more instances across the country."

While broadcasters heard some encouraging words from representatives of charities, police and emergency communicators, and the National Weather Service during the public comment segment, it also heard from homeless activists complaining of what they said was radio hate speech directed at the homeless in their community.

One woman said that a local station had been working with her to create PSA's encouraging tolerance, but only after she said it had aired hate speech that she said encouraged people to "beat up a homeless man."

A host of hot-button issues in addition to hate speech were touched on, including re-imposing the fairness doctrine, profanity and sex, and even one commenter who complained that newscasts were showing too much leg in an effort to sexualize the news.