Thursday, December 1, 2005
News outfits do it all the time. They run editorials that inevitably spark disagreement. And that’s kind of the point: lighting a fire under people’s bottoms to take action or, at least, make them think for longer than it takes for the next commercial to start.
But when an editorial runs on an issue that deals with the future development of a whole county, isn’t the opposition entitled to equal on-air time to respond?
Thanks to the deregulation of the Federal Communications Commission launched by President Ronald Reagan in the late 1980s, broadcast television news programs don’t have to run “equal time” for opposing viewpoints to respond to news editorials.
The question came up Nov. 18 when KSBW-TV President and General Manager Joseph Heston read an on-air editorial slamming voter-based legislation. Specifically, Heston criticized a voter initiative for a countywide general plan being organized by the Community General Plan Committee (see transcript below).
If successful in gathering enough signatures to get put on next summer’s ballot—and if a majority of voters approve it—the committee’s plan would dictate future growth for the next two decades in Monterey County.
Such a victory would also make null and void any general plan passed by County Supervisors, who have spent nearly $6 million on their own plan. Many expect the supes will pass a plan that lays the red carpet out for big developers and sprawl.
While KSBW-TV’s news programming has covered the general plan committee’s efforts, a bump ensued when members of the group weren’t allowed to respond to Heston’s editorial on-air.
Calls into the station were met with explanations that it isn’t the station’s policy to allow for equal time for editorial rebuttals.
Chris Fitz, director of LandWatch and a member of the general plan committee, says this is the first time they’ve taken issue with an editorial run by the television station.
“They can do what they want, but if they are interested in objective reporting of issues, they should allow people to respond,” Fitz says.
<>Michael DeLapa, a member of the committee, wrote a response to Heston’s editorial (see below)—which probably won’t see the light of day on the channel.
Heston viewers can call or e-mail the station with their comments or reactions, some of which may get published on KSBW-TV’s Web site or broadcast as viewer comments. But the station’s policy is not to broadcast a direct rebuttal by leaders of an opposition group.
Besides, Heston says, very few viewers responded to their last editorial on the general plan.
“We’ve received less than five voice mails and only two e-mails—that’s a very weak response,” Heston says. “Normally we get anywhere between 20 to 30 responses. And that may itself make a statement about people’s thoughts on voting on a [general plan] that’s 600 pages long.”
The station’s editorial board, consisting of Heston, Public Affairs Manager Theresa Wright and News Editor Lawton Dodd, prepared KSBW-TV’s editorial.
“The editorial was not aimed at belittling folks who have a particular point of view,” Heston says. “But it’s designed to question the process of government through referendums—which is a nutty way to do business.”
KSBW Editorial: General Plan on the Ballot?
A campaign is under way to have Monterey County’s General Plan decided by voters next June. The draft general plan is a 6-pound, 2-inch thick, over 600-page document that was released last year. County supervisors have already spent over $5 million, with a plethora of so-called studies being funded by tax dollars. Despite those millions of dollars, the plan apparently isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on, at least not to the backers of a General Plan ballot initiative.
We’re not here to argue the merits of the 2004 draft General Plan, the new proposed version by the initiative supporters, or the version advanced by the self-proclaimed “refinement group.” We’re here to argue against making this a voter-based decision. Decisions like a complicated General Plan are perhaps, more than any other, exactly the decisions we expect supervisors to make. That’s why we elect them!
Unfortunately, County Supervisor Dave Potter is already offering support for the ballot initiative. And this past Tuesday, the entire board decided to spend another $75,000 to weigh the POTENTIAL impact of the possible initiative. They patted themselves on the back, since they all agreed on something. More wasted money. Instead, supervisors: make a decision. The whining, dithering, and bickering, the threat of lawsuits from extremists on both sides of the issue, all of it be damned. We’ll have lawsuits from those on the extreme edges of this issue even after the initiative, whether it wins or loses!
Supervisor Dave Potter rationalized his support of a ballot initiative this week when he said: “There is a serious disconnect between policymakers’ decisions and what the general public wants.” Well, if that’s REALLY the case, then we the general public should elect new supervisors. That, or here’s another bad idea, we could get rid of the supervisors altogether and just hold a countywide election every two weeks on all the county business! The better idea? Monterey County Supervisors: make a decision!
Campaign Committee Reply
Your editorial about the initiative that’s been launched to revise the Monterey General Plan was both right on and way off.
Right on because you’re right, County supervisors have spent over $5 million—actually it’s $6 million—and 6 years developing a 6-pound, 2-inch thick document that isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on. And, yes, the Monterey County Supervisors should make a decision. Indeed, they did, in 2002, by adopting 12 guiding good planning principles. Unfortunately, they didn’t have the backbone to stand up to the special interests that oppose good planning and want to cash in on sprawl.
But you’re dead wrong about criticizing County Supervisor Dave Potter and, by implication, elected officials throughout Monterey County who have already endorsed the initiative. Supervisor Potter has tried to persuade his colleagues on the board that good planning makes good sense, but they just don’t seem to listen. Consider Rancho San Juan, a classic example of sprawl that will cost taxpayers thousands of dollars to bring water, utilities, roads, schools, and public services out to the fortunate new homeowners while the even more fortunate out-of-county developer pockets millions. A bonus for everyone but Salinas residents. On Nov. 8, 75 percent of Monterey County voters rejected the board’s decision to approve Rancho San Juan. Yet just one day before the vote, the Board of Supervisors approved another version of Rancho San Juan, refusing to wait until the vote was in and thumbing their nose at the electorate. Is it any surprise that the public is launching another referendum on Rancho San Juan?
There is a logical sequence here: referendums of bad
decisions, an initiative to create a framework for good
decisions, and the recall of supervisors who repeatedly
violate the public trust by voting to support developments
like Rancho San Juan. Yes, the Board of Supervisors needs to
decide. More importantly, it needs to decide to do the right
thing: support good planning, not big developers and other
Percentage of the nation’s strawberries produced in
California in 2001 (lettuce came in at 75 percent).
Source: California Legislative Analyst’s Office 2002