Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Are the Iowa Universities' Stations No Longer 'Educational'?

April 2, 2013, 7:30 a.m.

Afterword for "Self Help for a Helpful University"

In "Self Help for a Helpful University," March 1, 2013, I suggested that because the University of Iowa believes it needs to do a better job communicating with Iowans in general, and members of the State Legislature in particular, it might want to consider using for that purpose the network of radio stations it already owns.

Although the state's universities hold the licenses to the stations -- because the frequencies on which they broadcast have been set aside for "educational" stations -- they are currently operated by something called "Iowa Public Radio."

Subsequent to that blog essay, a controversy developed regarding Iowa Public Radio's status.
"The Gazette on Feb. 27 made an open records request to Iowa Public Radio officials, seeking the results of an employee culture survey that was commissioned by the IPR board in December at a cost of $20,000 plus travel expenses. Iowa Public Radio officials responded on March 7 that IPR was not a government body and therefore not subject to open records laws.

"A follow-up email March 12 said IPR officials believe its information 'should be as open to public inspection as possible,' and directed The Gazette to submit the request to the Board of Regents, noting that IPR is not the “lawful custodian” of the records since it is not a government body."
Diane Heldt, "Iowa Public Radio attorney: IPR not a government body," The Gazette, March 26, 2013, p. A8.

My comments on the matter were published as a letter in The Gazette two days later:

Public Universities Not Using Radio Well

Nicholas Johnson

The Gazette, March 28, 2013, p. A5

As a law professor with administrative law focus, Diane Heldt’s well written “IPR Not a Government Body” story, March 26, offers me a delicious final exam essay question.

As a former FCC commissioner, I see more here than Iowa’s open meetings and public records laws.

There’s a reason why Iowa’s public universities hold licenses to this multi-million-dollar statewide network.

Frieda Hennock, the FCC’s first woman commissioner, set aside the low FM frequencies for noncommercial “educational” stations.

Today’s Iowa Public Radio is neither noncommercial nor educational. Indeed, it’s baffling why schools that think they’re misunderstood don’t use this valuable resource to tell their story. “Self Help for a Helpful University,” http://fromdc2iowa.blogspot.com/2013/03/self-help-for-helpful-university.html.

I’ll leave the legal opinions to others, but running commercials on a station licensed as noncommercial isn’t the only problem.

If the universities want to fritter away what their stations could contribute to the schools’ mission, that’s one thing. But if IPR is truly “not a government body,” and a part of neither the Regents nor the state schools, there is, minimally, at least an ethical and moral issue as to whether the schools should continue to hold their valuable licenses to these “educational” stations.
In sum, the remaining issues are: (1) is the delegation of station operation from the state's universities and their Board of Regents to Iowa Public Radio consistent with the spirit behind the initial grant of "non-commercial, educational radio" licenses by the FCC to these universities; (2) how much more problematical does this become if IPR does not consider itself a subsidiary unit of either the actual license holders or their Board of Regents; (3) if IPR is, as its attorney insists, "not a government body," then what is it; (4) how can IPR's provision of time during program breaks to for-profit entities to promote their businesses, in exchange for cash, and stimulating this revenue stream by on-air promotions emphasizing the business benefits to advertisers from doing so, be considered "non-commercial," just because they call it "underwriting" ("if it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck . . ."); and (5) why are the universities so reluctant to put their own "commercials" on their own stations, similar to the examples provided in "Self Help for a Helpful University,"?

If I ever come across responses, let alone "answers," to any of these questions you'll be the first to know.

# # #

No comments: