TESTIMONY BEFORE THE ADVISORY COMMITTEE ON PUBLIC INTEREST OBLIGATIONS OF DIGITAL TELEVISION BROADCASTERS
Kelley L. Carpenter
Chair, Development Committee, Southern California Indian Center
March 2, 1998
While working on the show Jeopardy!, I witnessed first-hand the immense influence that American television broadcasters have on national and international viewers. Technological developments will only serve to expand the strongest arm of the world's media. They will allow broadcast networks to inspire, educate, and galvanize the viewing population, as well as create programming that serves and unites individual communities.
I have the privilege of working with community development professionals from a variety of non-profit and grassroots organizations, all engaged in projects designed to be of benefit. A common concern I hear among these professionals is their lack of access to major broadcast networks. Unless a story arose that was suitable for immediate news coverage, these professionals found quite regularly that their phone calls weren't returned when they tried to submit programming ideas. Although several of these people had worked successfully with community service departments at some of the networks, for the most part they couldn't obtain coverage on stories that would have appealed to large segments of the population.
When faced with closed doors at major networks, these community spokespersons continued down the television food chain until they reached local cable access channels that would consider their suggestions. While some coverage is better than no coverage, these spokespersons are nonetheless frustrated in their attempts to reach large numbers of viewers in their communities.
To address this challenge of community access to programming, I'd like to suggest the formation of community development panels within networks which would use an established not-for-profit criteria to accept, evaluate, and produce story ideas submitted by local community organizations. The panels would solicit submissions on a regular basis, to offer these groups viable outlets for their ideas, as well as offer viewers the types of human interest stories that promote pride in their community.
Once organizations and service groups learn that broadcasters are initiating this type of programming, they could focus on submitting ideas that could educate and inspire children, motivate elders, eliminate cultural barriers, and provide viewers with information that they might not seek out in any other media.
The stories could take the form of weekly documentaries, compiled into an hour of programming. The key to their success, from a community perspective, would be the time slots in which they are aired. Airing community stories at 2 or 3 a.m. doesn't really serve these vital organizations, because the viewers who can be inspired by or act on the information presented are either working the night shift or sleeping in preparation for work or school.
Perhaps broadcaster who air two hours of daily local news broadcasts could limit this news coverage one day a week, and air one hour of well-produced, compelling community programming, and one hour of local news. Advertisers could support the production costs, by sponsoring segments within the community hour. If aired during this time, during weekdays, the programming could reach the viewers that would most benefit by it, including children and teenagers.
Local news departments at the major networks are to be applauded for their trend toward the inclusion of "upbeat" segments at the end of their broadcasts. When expanded into documentaries, these segments could have an even greater positive effect, providing a counterpoint to the negative news stories that dishearten, depress, and distress viewers, especially in the case of the community's youth and elderly.
The second issue I would like to request that broadcasters address with a community perspective is the issue of employment.
Broadcast networks bring the world into viewers' homes every day. It follows that these broadcasters are particularly poised to demonstrate that the world can work together, under one roof, to create successful programming.
At a recent awards dinner sponsored by First Americans in the Arts, the Board of Trustees presented Beth Sullivan, creator of Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman with an honorary award for her show's accurate portrayal of American Indian life. In her gracious acceptance speech, she commented that although her staff practiced due diligence with regards to historical research, she looked forward to the day that American Indians could tell their own stories through the television media, as writers and producers.
Taken in a larger context, her comments can be applied to talented members of the community from all backgrounds. In preparation for my testimony this morning, I spoke to American Indian, Latino, African-American, and Asian-American students and community members who still believe that there is a glass ceiling where they're concerned with regards to landing high-paying creative, production, and executive jobs at major broadcast networks. They are encouraged by the cultural variety of on-air talent, which serves their particular demographics, but wonder if those hiring choices extend to all departments.
These students still believe that internships at broadcast networks may lead to entry-level or technical jobs, but question if they'll open doors in a hiring system that they consider to be based on "who you know."
Jobs at broadcast networks are highly coveted, no matter what a person's background may be. The advent of new technologies will create an even greater number of jobs to fill, as well as a greater potential for diverse programming that will require multicultural voices and talents. If broadcast networks are incorporating hiring policies that draw from a broad multicultural talent pool, communities would appreciate knowing about it. This is yet another area in which broadcasters can exhibit enlightened leadership in an increasingly culturally diverse nation.