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Local TV station urges County Council to broadcast meetings with GAP

March 19th, 2011 Posted in Opinion

By Rhett Wilkinson

LOGAN— If a County Council meeting is held and nobody gets to see it, did it actually happen? And who is supporting such a potential silence?

Like knowing if trees actually make a sound when they fall if would-be listeners are absent, it’s a riddle that station KUTA TV8 wants to avoid altogether. They just want a little help cutting down those trees in the first place.

At the Cache County Council’s March 8 meeting, KUTA TV8 station managers Jeremy Threlfall and Nanette Miller, and Northern Utah Media Group representative Jamie Forbush, presented their goals to help future council meetings become more visible. The station, which currently televises the meetings on Comcast 118, USU Cable 61, D-TV 8.1 and www.kutatv.com, encouraged the council to use the Government Access Programming (GAP) channel to broadcast their meetings. Using a GAP channel would enable to station to save money on production costs and open the door for those dollars to be better used elsewhere, Threlfall said.

Threlfall discussed how the need to use the GAP channel is an initiative that must be carried forward, particularly in light of the passing of House Bill 477, which limits media and public access or requires payments to access Utah government records, while also drawing a curtain over emails and other forms of electronic communication between members of the Legislature.

“We would hope that the county and council would start using their GAP channel to actually broadcast and educate the citizens of Cache Valley,” he said, adding that he hoped the council would be willing to set aside money to help offset the cost of the server that enables council meetings to be broadcast online.

“We had to make (the council) be aware of what we’re doing and not have them abandon us for outrageous costs,” Forbush said.

Both Forbush and Threlfall stressed that the station doesn’t seek a profit from the council programming their meetings through GAP, but would hope that their cost of production, with the money focused elsewhere, would be offset.

Threlfall said the council had recently decided to donate $29,000 to the show “County Seat,” a program designed to teach about government, which is produced outside Cache Valley. He said that such funding should go toward more effective avenues.

“We (KUTA TV8) think that the council should take that $29,000 and use it to help pay for server space, which we presently provide, allowing citizens to be able to watch the county council meetings whenever they desire — the best way to learn about local government,” he said.

Forbush said that the council spent $22,000 on KBYU alone, while ignoring more local stations like KUTV TV8 that because of closer proximity can provide more immediate and intimate coverage of the meetings for the county.

The council was largely unsure by the particular ways they could help KUTA TV8, a confusion partially caused by those presenting, Threlfall said, because the station managers tried a “honey vs. vinegar” route to try to show the few pros and multitude of cons with the council refusing to use GAP and instead relying on the station for their visibility. In analyzing the presentation afterwards, Threlfall felt it wasn’t necessary to focus on the “little benefits” that come from the council continuing to use much of their funds on programs outside the county and relying on KUTA TV8 to provide digital access to the meetings.

“I should not have tried the ‘honey’ route,” he said.

County Executive Lynn Lemon admitted to some confusion, but said that he and the council are willing to help where they can as they understand the situation more clearly.

“I was impressed with the presentation,” Lemon said. “The thing I am trying to figure out is how to provide help. There are other competitors that have contacted the county, so one of my questions is, are you going to put this out for bid? Where are we to provide funding, where are we not to provide funding? Overall, talking about how to educate the public about government and how to help them be better informed. We are just trying to determine how to go about doing that.”

Threlfall said the ignorance of the council in not knowing that the station was broadcasting the meetings for the council, let alone not understanding what the station is asking for, was best summarized by one councilwoman.

“Kathy Robinson summed it all up when she said, ‘How did you start out deciding that you wanted to provide this service? I don’t remember us asking for you to provide it,’” he said.

Council Chairman Jon White could not be reached for comment.

Forbush argued that the tasks KUTA TV8 is asking of the council are in line with what is demanded from the council by the guidelines that protect societies. “By law, local governments are required to address the public on what they’re doing,” he said. “We are helping them fulfill those requirements they have. We’re saying we’re covering everthing for them, disseminating and then archiving these meetings in their fullness.”

While Forbush agreed that it was a challenge for the station to effectively convey their task requests, he said he felt gratitude to have such an opportunity.

“Number one, I’m grateful they put us on the agenda and took some time to listen to us,” he said. “I appreciate it and hope I can deliver to them. Some things we said were very technical, and it’s tough to deliver things of a technical nature to people that aren’t technical.”

Despite the language barrier, Threlfall said individuals such as County Attorney James Swink and County Executive Lemon have wanted to “open the transparency door” in the past.

“We care so much about the issue we presented because the United States government has been maintained through the media providing checks and balances and insisting that the people have the right to know what their leaders are doing,” he said. “Up to now, we have been the only TV station and Internet service that has provided council meetings in full, on-demand. You can go back for years and watch past council meetings. This may change soon.”

NW

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