Letter to Sinclair Broadcasting: 37 Cents. Taking Back Our Airwaves: Priceless

Letter to Sinclair Broadcasting:  37 Cents.  Taking Back Our Airwaves:  Priceless




Ted
Remington
(above) is seen by many as a pioneer in the campaign to expose
Sinclair Broadcasting’s corporate excess.  This guest opinion,
which appeared in the Iowa City Press-Citizen on June 4, 2004, made
many eastern Iowans aware for the first time that a local station,
KGAN,  was owned by a huge media conglomerate, the already-notorious
Sinclair Broadcasting –  the company that refused to allow its
local stations to air Ted Koppel’s “The Fallen.”  To start off Blog
for Iowa’s Focus on the Media Week, here is Ted’s landmark piece.

~~~


Individual and PAC contributions by Sinclair Broadcasting Group executives to Republicans:  Nearly $250,000.



The opportunity to foist off canned editorials on eastern Iowans from half a continent away:  Priceless.



If you
flip by KGAN at about 10:30 on any given night, you’ll see someone
named Mark Hyman delivering his daily editorial, “The Point,” at the
tail end of the nightly newscast.  Hyman is not a
journalist.  He’s not a KGAN employee.  He’s not even an
Iowan.  So why is he prattling away on our airwaves?




The
simple answer to that is because he can.  Hyman is the vice
president of Sinclair Broadcasting Group Inc., a Baltimore-based
company that aims to do to local news what Wal-Mart did to local
shopping:  offer low-cost, low-quality products in homogenous
outlets across the country to maximize profit.  Sinclair owns or
operates 62 local television stations across the country, including
Iowa stations KGAN, KFXA, KFSB and KDSM.  




Part of
Sinclair’s modus operandi is to gut local news operations and replace
them with a one-size-fits-all broadcast.  In many markets, much of
the “local” news is actually created in Sinclair’s studios in
Baltimore, beamed to its stations, and presented as homegrown product.




No longer homegrown



Thus
far, Iowa viewers have been spared the worst of Sinclair’s excesses,
but we’ve hardly gone untouched.  If you’ve noticed that Tiffany
O’Donnell anchors not only KGAN’s 10 p.m. news but also the 9 p.m.
newscast on KFXA and KFXB, you’ve seen Sinclair’s handiwork.  And
if business takes you to Des Moines and you feel a little homesick,
just tune in to KDSM’s nightly newscast, hosted by your “local” news
anchor, the indefatigable Tiffany O’Donnell.




Has
O’Donnell conquered the laws of time and space in order to hold down
three anchoring jobs simultaneously?  Not exactly.  Sinclair
uses its stable of  KGAN talent to create a generic newscast that
is shown on KFXA, KFXB and KDSM.  The good people of Dubuque have
suffered most from this news cloning.  The city no longer has a
newscast of its own but must do with the generic Sinclair-cast that
pays virtually no attention to stories of particular interest in
Dubuque.  For all intents and purposes, KFXB no longer is a local
station.




Once
upon a time, Sinclair could not have pulled this off.  Media
ownership regulations ensured that no single company ran multiple
television stations in the same market.  But the current
incarnation of the Federal Communications Commission, with the approval
of anti-regulation crusaders in the White House and Congress, relaxed
these restrictions, delighting companies such as Sinclair, which can
now scoop up multiple stations at will.




And this
brings us back to the droit du seigneur that is “The Point.”  Not
content to merely profit from owning scores of television stations,
Sinclair’s executives use the rights of ownership to compel stations
such as KGAN to run their prefab political editorials.  Regardless
of how out of step such commentaries might be with the views and
concerns of local viewers in specific markets, all Sinclair-owned
stations must submit and provide Hyman access to their audience.




It’s
true that Hyman’s editorials are predictably conservative, far to the
right of the average KGAN viewer.  But that shouldn’t surprise
anyone.  Given that republican politicians and appointees
spearheaded media deregulation, one can understand why Sinclair’s views
(and money) support GOP concerns almost exclusively.  But that’s
not the problem.




It’s
also the case that Hyman’s ramblings rarely rise above the level of
talk-radio blather, relying on name calling, hyperbole and shading of
the truth to create what passes for an “argument.”  But that’s not
my primary concern, either.




Not an Iowa Discussion



What
should concern all of us in eastern Iowa is that Sinclair, a corporate
conglomerate based on the east coast, is exploiting a local
resource.  If KGAN wants to take a right-wing editorial stance,
that’s fine.  If KGAN decides to allot precious minutes of airtime
to the musings of a mid-level management type rather than a bona fide
journalist, that’s its prerogative.  But “The Point” isn’t a KGAN
product.  It’s the brainchild of a corporation as far away from
eastern Iowa in temperament and values as it is in geography.




We the
people own the public airwaves, not KGAN, Mark Hyman or Sinclair
Broadcasting Group.  I, for one, would welcome greater use of
local broadcast time for the discussion of topical issues, but let it
be a truly local discussion.  Let’s talk about school board
elections, local referendums and proposed city ordinances.  Let’s
talk about who we want to represent us in Des Moines and
Washington.  And when we discuss national and international
issues, let’s do it with an Iowan accent.




“The
Point” represents a misuse of a public resource, a resource too scarce
to be given away.  Certainly, there are larger issues of media
conglomeration that bode ill for truly local news, and these issues
need to be addressed.




But
let’s begin the fight here.  Write KGAN (Sinclair Broadcasting
Group Inc., 10706 Beaver Dam Road, Hunt Valley, Md., 21030) and ask
them to stand up for their viewers by standing up to their bosses in
Baltimore.  Better yet, write directly to the Sinclair company and
tell it you will not watch its programming as long as it takes
advantage of their clients:  us.




Sending a letter to Sinclair Broadcasting Group:  37 cents.



Getting back our public airwaves:  Priceless.

~~~




Ted
Remington is an assistant professor of English and associate director
of writing at the University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne, Indiana.
He holds a Ph.D. in communication studies from The University of Iowa,
where he specialized in rhetorical studies.  He has written
articles and presented papers on a range of topics, including using the
Internet to teach writing, the political rhetoric of marginalized
groups, and the role of rhetorical critics as political activists. He
is also the author of the weblog “The Counterpoint,” which features
near-daily refutations of “The Point.”




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