Some of you may remember that local stations used to have guests in the studio regularly to either debate with each other or offer alternative opinions to the station’s editorials on current issues. Today I get annoyed when I watch Bill Fine, “president and general manager of WCVB Channel 5, Hearst Television’s flagship station and Boston’s ABC affiliate,” do on-air editorials like this one.
Sometimes I agree with Fine’s opinions and sometimes I don’t but that’s not the issue. What rankles is that he gets to express his viewpoint on the airwaves and all they offer the viewer is their web address at the end of the editorial as a way to respond. I find this paternalistic and insulting to the idea of entities that hold federal broadcast licenses having a public interest obligation – an ethical if no longer legally mandated one – to provide an opportunity for opposing viewpoints to be broadcast. I suppose I wouldn’t be annoyed if, like other local stations, WCVB presented no station editorials at all. What riles me is seeing Bill Fine’s mug promoting his opinions on camera to viewers over licensed public airwaves with zero opportunity for the rest of us to respond on those same public airwaves. The Internet and social media (net neutrality status notwithstanding) have opened up all kinds of opportunities for anyone to get their viewpoints out but as long as local TV stations like WCVB can do on-air editorials, I maintain my argument.
A facsimile of public response on local stations exists today in the selected guests on certain programs on NECN, WGBH (Greater Boston on weeknights) and Urban Update and CityLine on the weekend. All of the above have carefully selected guests and are not the kind of opportunity I am talking about where people from the community could contact the station and offer themselves as spokespeople on various issues. The stations used to do this. Obviously it would entail more work on a station’s part to vet potential commentators and it would cut into their precious ad revenue. So what.
The FCC had a Fairness Doctrine years ago that required stations to present opposing viewpoints but it was repealed or deactivated by Congress and the FCC. Here are several background links: