G.O.P. backs spin-off of Idaho's state-owned public TV net
Idaho's dominant party and vocal legislators have recommended divesting the state-owned public TV network, following repeated clashes over broadcast of national programs on gay topics.
The Republican-controlled legislature will have months to consider the idea. It doesn't meet again until January.
The Idaho Educational Public Broadcasting System (IEPBS) may spend some of that time determining whether a spin-off is feasible. "An independently verifiable fiscal analysis of privatization probably would be of benefit in coming months," said General Manager Peter W. Morrill.
Nick Miller, president of the Boise-area Friends of Idaho PTV, the largest of three regional fundraising groups for the net, said he can't predict whether state leaders seriously back privatization. "Every party passes platform planks that are in some instances feel-good measures," said the Boise attorney. It's one thing to pass a platform plank and another to study whether the idea is feasible, he added.
Formerly state-owned networks in Oregon, Maine, North Dakota and Hawaii [see box] have been transferred to independent nonprofits, often with continuing state aid for specific functions such as operation of rural transmitters. Morrill has repeatedly testified that the Idaho network could afford to broadcast only in the Boise area if it does not receive adequate state aid for operation and digital conversion of its far-flung transmitters in Twin Falls, Moscow, Coeur d'Alene and Pocatello. The net now gets 30 percent of its operating budget from the state and needs millions for DTV conversion.
The state Republican Party resolution, adopted June 24 at a convention that featured an anti-Washington speech by Charlton Heston, asserts that IEPBS "both directly and indirectly competes with private enterprise"—contrary to the state constitution, "principles of sound economics" and Republican party policy. It recommends that the state divest its TV network "in such a way as to allow continued operation in the private sector."
Sen. Mel Richardson, a Republican member of the legislature's joint budget committee, said this month he'll propose privatization. "I'm not trying to kill public television," he said, according to the Idaho Statesman. "If there's a big audience, let them pay for it." The Twin Falls Times last week said the legislature should consider a spin-off, which would get the government out of touchy media decisions and put the burden of the expense on private sources. "It could be a divorce made in heaven."
Disclaimers to air daily
In the meantime, the State Board of Education, which oversees the network, followed up on religious conservatives' complaints about the network's airing of two documentaries on gay topics, "It's Elementary" (last September) and "Our House" (June). The legislature in April ordered the network not to air "programming that promotes, supports or encourages the violation of Idaho criminal statutes," and in response the State Board of Education on June 30 tentatively approved disclaimers to be aired daily. If the board gives final approval in August, IEPBS will begin broadcasting this advisory at least once a day:
"Events and depictions appearing on this IEPBS that are broadcast for the purpose of providing in-depth news coverage, documentaries and information valuable for Idaho citizens, may at times show acts that, if committed in Idaho in reality, would be violations of Idaho criminal laws. The IEPBS and the Idaho State Board of Education expressly offer such programs as part of IEPBS's highest priority of programming and not for the purpose of promoting, supporting or encouraging the violation of any Idaho criminal statutes."
A second advisory will be aired at least once a day and printed on network programming materials:
"As part of the IEPBS highest priority of programming in broadcast ... some content may be controversial. IEPBS and the State Board of Education encourage families to exercise decisions as to values important to them to determine whether to watch any IEPBS program. In order to assist families in making the decision, information about programming is available online, by phone and in writing."
The legislature also ordered the board to monitor "programs expected to be of a controversial nature," and the State Board of Education in June ordered Morrill to comply with "the intent of the legislature."
After a look at the program schedule, Morrill says, "It does not appear August will have any barn-burners."
"This is all just because some folks don't like two programs that have been on," said board member Jim Hammond, according to the Idaho Statesman. Hammond voted for the new policy but said it does "disservice to the citizens of Idaho and the view others have of us."
"Idaho is once again stalled in the hayseed lane," complained Boise Weekly columnist Bill Cope. "I know history is supposed to repeat itself and all, but dang ... seems like in Idaho we repeat it way too often. We never even give history a chance to dry out some in between . . ."
July 1, 2000, was a historic day for Hawaii's public broadcasters. The date marked the end of Hawaii Public Television as a state-funded agency and the beginning of its existence as a private nonprofit. The Hawaii Public Television Foundation has assumed responsibility for HPTV and received all broadcast licenses and assets that were held by the Hawaii Public Broadcasting Authority.
The move is the result of a 1997 request by the state legislature and a five-year strategic plan that was accelerated due to lack of state funding. All state funding for the station has ceased, and the foundation has been seeking business partnerships during its conversion.
The Honolulu station has forged one such partnership with KGMB, the local CBS affiliate. By the end of the summer, the commercial station will handle HPTV's feed from PBS. The relationship was a natural one, as HPTV's antenna and transmitter system are located on KGMB's property.
Don Robbs has resigned as the station general manager, and Karen Yamamoto is acting g.m. The station's board of directors is searching for a c.e.o.
Web page posted July 22, 2000
Copyright 2000 by Current Publishing Committee