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Chicago Public Television's Private MeetingsPosted by Bob - November 8, 2004 (entry 253)
Chicago Public Television's Private Meetings
Channel 11's elite board had a meeting on October 27.
To be more precise, Window to the World Communications, Inc.
(WWCI), an IRS 501(c)3 nonprofit charitable corporation licensed
by the U.S. FCC to use reserved public television channel #11,
had its main quarterly meeting. It was portrayed as a public
meeting, and three members of Chicago Media Action (CMA), the
activist media reform group, went.
CMA has long accused WWCI of converting the station into an elitist
commercial business even though the federal license is reserved for
community public broadcasting. WWCI gets over 30 million dollars a
year from taxes, charitable foundations, and individuals. And it
has large investments in reserve. It actively seeks donations of
cash, cars, real estate, and personal estates.
CMA wants the station governance changed to represent the area's
true working class public and community organizations, instead of
just certain large for-profit corporations and wealthy families.
Broadly representative trustees would hire managers who would, for
instance, do solid local news programming and produce frequent live
town hall meetings on public issues.
CMA's demands and its nationally-recognized study "Chicago Tonight:
Elites, Affluence, and Advertising" are on the Internet at
www.chicagomediaaction.org and www.9898.us/mi.
Our little excursion was good and bad. 1.) Good - we learned a lot
about WWCI's plans and progress in commercializing WTTW and PBS
nationwide. 2.) Bad - as the public we were treated most
discourteously, perhaps illegally.
1.) WWCI is lobbying on behalf of the Association of Public
Television Stations companies to get U.S.
- Get almost all of public television's new digital broadcasting
capacity to be totally and unqualifiedly commercial. Leasing out
broadcasting spectrum to commercial tv and creating innovative new
communications businesses, they would say, can generate great income
for more highly paid staff, cutting-edge technology, and expensive
production and production acquisitions.
- Force cable companies to carry these commercial channels and
- Get the 'bonanza' money in a few years when the U.S. sells to
computer networking corporations the radio spectrum channels now
used by nondigital public tv.
WTTW's on-staff lobbyist, Martin McLaughlin, is seen as able to
get U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert personally to guide the
We need to learn more about how public channel licensees are using
the change to digital broadcasting to commercialize practically
every resource that was once or could soon be dedicated to
noncommercial public broadcasting.
WTTW and all the other(!) WWCI commercial businesses seem to be
growing in income, and the endowment funds are solid for many years
to come, especially if the stock market goes up.
The cutting-edge state-of-the-art all-digital fully-high-definition
Central Control Room is a source of great pride to Board President
and CEO Dan Schmidt and integral to new WWCI businesses. (For
example, an innovative WWCI video archive library service was news
in the Chicago Tribune October 30.)
Three new trustees were voted in: One is from an architectural
firm. One represents an agency in Chinatown. And one is from
Boeing Company. We do not know yet if there are now two Boeing
Company trustees on the board, or if a trustee left and that
chair is now seen as belonging to Boeing.
2.) We were kept out of the first fifteen minutes of the meeting,
when Schmidt was giving his keynote reports and remarks. We could
hear frequent applause. Then, when we were let in, we were
immediately forced out again, because someone decided that more of
the meeting had to be private. We can only wonder what was said.
When we were let in again, after another fifteen minutes, for the
public part of the meeting, we were seated against the back wall of
a gigantic television studio, across a vast wasteland of gray
floor tiles from the trustees meeting in the other half of the
studio (picture pending).
CMA is looking into whether excluding us from the earlier parts of
the meeting was actually a violation of law. It certainly showed that
claims of openness are deceitful. Maybe there is even a Corporation
for Public Broadcasting regulation that requires public meetings
because WWCI receives public money.
The journalist we had invited to this supposedly public meeting was
not allowed in. WWCI said it was because their International
Brotherhood of Electrical Workers contract prohibited his video or
audio coverage of the event. One of us was finally allowed to take
still pictures late in the meeting; but he was warned that the
pictures could not be published without getting the permission of
A moonlighting Chicago policeman was assigned to us as a minder, and
he rudely and physically interrupted every time someone tried to talk
to us. He even held two of us from leaving the building for a while,
making them wait for the third to finish using the bathroom.
WWCI's true relationship to the public is clearer to CMA's little
expedition now. But it will have to be clear to many more of Chicago's
public before CMA's ambitious plans for reform are realized. Pencil
the WWCI quarterly board meeting of January 26, 2005 onto your new
calendars; and keep checking CMA's web site.
-- Bob Gallie, Nov. 8, 2004
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