by Bob Duthaler
So many great things came out of our conference, and I would like to reflect on two of these, draw your attention to them and ask for your response as well. It is important to realize that information between JAG and its members is a two-way street. As President of this great organization, and with the support of the board and the various committees, we present to our members valuable information, establish important relationships, and give our members the support they need to make their job easier.
One of the great relationships that JAG was able to establish was with Congressman Payne of New Jersey’s 10th Congressional District. The Congressman was no stranger to the importance of local access television, having appeared on it many times in the course of his duties. He was there when our cameras were on hand for ribbon cutting events, council meetings and other community events. He understands the valuable work we do to get information out to the community and especially so during the last year while in the midst of COVID-19. Congressman Payne was there again when we reached out to him. During the previous administration, the future of local access television was under attack – from the FCC orders affecting franchise agreements and funding to pending legislation that could negatively impact our operations. When our Legislative Committee reached out to the Congressman, he took our call and listened to our concerns. Congressman Payne understood these issues. He reached out to the FCC to rescind their order, and singed on to the Community Television Preservation Act to help protect access TV. Members of JAG along with the Executive Board also realized what Congressman Payne did to help our members and the communities we serve. Because of this, he was nominated for JAG Legislator of the Year and was unanimously approved by the JAG Executive Board. We were able to present our award to the congressman during our live luncheon during the third day at our annual conference. I urge you to watch this keynote event on either the JAG website in the members only section or on the conference website. I want to highlight a couple of quotes that Congressman Payne had to say about what we do. When speaking about JAG directly Congressman Payne had this to say, “The Jersey Access Group plays a critical role in helping New Jersey residents get their local news and content as I learned over the last past year. It has helped me to reach thousands of my constituents in a variety of ways. The most popular one concerns the city council and town hall meetings that I attend every month … I know it is a group member who is helping to broadcast those meetings to my district cities and communities. Without local television stations, those communities would be robbed of crucial information necessary to make informed decisions about their elected officials. In addition, they allow residents to learn about important school property and tax proposals within their municipalities.” The Congressman spoke directly about the FCC and its harm to local access, “I am not pleased with the actions of the Federal Communications Commission to defund local television stations. The decision to allow cable television companies to reduce franchise fees owed to your members threatens community access to local content … I contacted the FCC to address New Jersey’s unique situation in a letter with my friend and colleague Congresswoman Bonnie Watson-Coleman. We asked them to reverse the 621 Order ruling so that New Jersey residents have uninterrupted access to local public educational and governmental access channels.”
Congressman Payne clearly showed that he understands the importance of local access television, the work you do and JAG. The question is… does your community know? Do your local leaders know? Well, they should! That brings me to my second point of this article, which also came out of our annual conference. In the same video in which the Congressman spoke, Nancy Werner, General Counsel for the National Association of Telecommunication Officers and Advisors (NATOA) expanded on the value of community media and that value needs to be protected. Nancy reinforced the efforts of Congressman Payne by referencing a survey by the School for Communication at American University that called public access stations the local communication hub. This could not have been made clearer than when we look at how community media dealt with COVID-19. This is a story that needs to be told, not just on your channel but to your local elected officials, community leaders, and members of congress on the state and federal levels. Keep reminding them of the work that you have been doing.
Mike Wassenaar, the President of the Alliance for Community Media also spoke to our group. Mike also highlighted the work across the country that local access stations were doing during the COVID-19 crisis. Stations just like the ones we all operate. How we had to re-invent ourselves during this crisis – operate stations remotely, incorporate remote and online meetings to our broadcasts, cover live press conferences and local updates… all reasons why our local leaders were looking to us for answers and advice. It was the collective power and ingenuity of our members that made it possible for us to pull this off, keep information flowing during a crisis and keep government operating in a transparent way.
In speaking to our members, Mike threw out a challenge to JAG members (here is the two-way communication part). Mike asked that all of us think of one or two sentences on what our stations did during the COVID-19 crisis to keep us relevant and to communicate effectively to our viewers the information our local leaders were trying to get out. The challenge is simple. No one is asking you to write a full article (like I must do each month…that is a real challenge), just a sentence or two. Just tell us what you did and why it was important. Sometimes we all need to “toot our own horns” because we can’t always get others to recognize these things. Once brought to their attention, you will see how your local leaders will realize the importance of you and your station. I urge you again to watch the third day lunch speakers, hear what they have to say and listen to the challenge that Mike Wassenaar gave to our group. Our legislative committee, under the leadership of JAG Vice-President Dave Garb as its chair, will be collecting your responses to Mike’s challenge. They will gather up the responses and create a document that they will ultimately share with leaders on both a statewide level and national level, like Congressman Payne. It is important for you to take a few minutes, reflect on what you did and answer the challenge.