KING-TV has cancelled “Up Front,” a weekly program hosted by Robert Mak. The 11-year-old show featured local journalists commenting on local news and events. The show was always informative, always controversial and always the topic of conversation in the halls of government.
Meanwhile, KCTS-TV, Seattle’s viewer-supported public TV station, has taken a similar step: canceling “KCTS Connects,” its weekly look at public affairs, hosted by Enrique Cerna and in its 13th year.
KING’s cancellation was blamed variously on the need to downsize and/or on the lack of advertising. The latter seems to fly in the face of the avalanche of ad revenues reaped by the station during the fall election season. KCTS, the publicly-owned station, financed partly through viewers’ donations, does not carry political ads and, therefore, did not have even the shaky excuse of flagging ad revenues.
The suspicion, although not publicly admitted, is that both shows’ ratings may have been lagging. But, while that may be the root cause, it must be said that the two shows had immense influence in shaping public policy.
Whatever the reasons, the idea that lapsed ratings led to the shows’ almost simultaneous demise – within weeks of one another – is a sorry state of affairs and immensely disappointing to those who still believe that the television media merit a role in public discourse.
At one time, the Federal Communications Commission required that broadcasters provide meaningful news and public affairs programming in exchange for their continued use of the public airwaves. That requirement, like the Fairness Doctrine, no longer is strictly observed. But it does give one pause to think that our airwaves can be exclusive devoted to commercial enterprise with no meaningful public affairs programming.
I am hoping that there will be a backlash to the sudden demise of these two public affairs programs. Already there is a Facebook page titled “Save Up Front with Robert Mak on KING 5.” Also, there has been a flood of emails to KCTS about the cancellation of Enrique Cerna’s program. Viewers can complain directly to KCTS President Moss Bresnahan — email@example.com.
In the meantime, there are moves afoot at the Seattle Channel, consistently honored as one of the nation’s best municipal channels, to pick up some of the slack. After talking with John Giamberso, Seattle Channel’s General Manager, I was encouraged that a show he’s planning might be a worthy successor to the two public affairs programs.
Channel 21, in cooperation with Crosscut (the online news blog) and City Club, is talking about a moderated show with live audience participation. The working title they’ve chosen for it, “Flash Forward,” sounded a little clunky to me. But, if we were to style it as something like, say, “Seattle Spin” and invite local journalists and politicos to appear and explain public events, we might be able to fill that thirst for public affairs.