A Scottsdale activist who has requested a television show on the city’s cable channel is awaiting a new policy that will determine who is allowed air time on the government-funded network.
Sue Wood, president of the Scottsdale Small Business Alliance that recently launched television ads critical of the city’s transportation policy and a council member, has asked for a show on the city’s Channel 11.
The channel is available to cable subscribers and on the city’s Web site.
Wood said she sent the letter last week after seeing what she thinks is bias favoring city positions in talk shows now airing — a claim dismissed by those organizations who say they run informational shows with differing perspectives.
The city told Wood it did not have a policy for private programming, but was working on one. A proposal is expected in the next couple of weeks.
While the city has no formal policy, it has allowed a newspaper to sponsor a show along with a nonprofit group that receives city funding. At stake now is who can host or sponsor a show on the channel that taxpayers contribute nearly $400,000 a year to operate.
“I think it’s important that they figure out what their policy is so they can tell people why it is certain programming is allowed and some isn’t,” Wood said.
In addition to forums on city, and sometimes regional, issues hosted by the Scottsdale Republic and the nonprofit Leaders in Nonpartisan Knowledge-based Solutions or LINKS, a number of government-produced shows or special events also air. That includes shows on the library, the grand opening of SkySong, and a monthly report from Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas. This is in addition to the broadcast of City Council and city board and commission meetings.
Scottsdale spokesman Pat Dodds, who oversees the channel, said generally the city accepts outside programming produced by the county, state and federal governments as well as entities that have a contractual relationship with the city, such as the Scottsdale Convention and Visitors Bureau and LINKS, a public policy and research organization that receives $52,000 a year in city money. No user pays for studio time, including the Republic.
Wood may be the most recent to ask for a show, but she’s not the first.
George Knowlton, who runs scottsdaleactivist.com, a Web site critical of Mayor Mary Manross and high-ranking current and past city officials, said he asked for a show to discuss city issues. Dodds said that while he does not believe Knowlton was formally denied, he was never offered a show.
Councilman Bob Littlefield said he does not believe it is legal for a private, for-profit entity such as the Republic to have a show on Channel 11. He also says LINKS has crossed the line and should be removed.
And if one private group has a show, Littlefield asks, how can the city reject other requests?
“(The Scottsdale Republic) is using this as a commercial enterprise and it’s completely inappropriate,” Littlefield said. “If we let the Scottsdale Republic on, how can we deny Sue Wood that program? I would say we can’t.”
Wood said if given a show, she would invite people on to discuss traffic — she runs the scottsdaletraffic.com Web site — but would also tackle other issues. Her group, which includes political consultant Lamar Whitmer, is critical of light rail, roundabouts and high-density development.
Judy Crider, executive director of LINKS, said the organization was approached by the city to host a monthly show after the group hosted a forum at the City Hall Kiva.
The forums, which started a little over a year ago, are hosted by former Councilman Ned O’Hearn, a member of LINKS’ board of directors. They have included discussions on education, transportation, population buildout, housing and city financing. Next month’s show will be on teen alcohol use, Crider said. In past forums, LINKS has had guests representing both sides of an issue.
“The whole point is to get the community informed,” Crider said. “We try really hard to bring in people from all perspectives, so we get a community conversation.”
Scottsdale Republic general manager Michael Ryan, who has hosted the public affairs show for 3 1/2 years, said, “It allows people the opportunity to see and hear newsmakers ... and the whole purpose is to elicit their view. It’s not a forum to give our thoughts. We have an opinion page to do that.”
Scottsdale does have guidelines on candidate or ballot issue forums. The Tribune, the Republic and the Scottsdale Association of Realtors are hosting debates before the city’s mayor and council election on Sept. 2.
Dodds said the city’s guidelines require that all candidates be invited, a majority have to show up and the moderator must be neutral. The Tribune does not have a recurring show on Channel 11, but does host debates each election season.