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Public cable channel runs report attacking local reporter

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NEWS MEDIA UPDATE   ·   MICHIGAN   ·   Newsgathering   ·   June 2, 2005


Public cable channel runs report attacking local reporter

  • At the insistence of city administrators, a government access channel in Detroit is airing a program denouncing a local television journalist, a potential violation of state communications regulations.

June 2, 2005  ·   Public officials from two Michigan cities oversaw production of a program criticizing a local television reporter which is airing on a public cable channel, the Detroit Free Press reported May 25.

The program, “Steve Wilson, the Inventive Reporter,” questions methods used by Wilson, the chief investigative reporter for Detroit ABC affiliate WXYZ-TV. The show includes clips of two interviews by Wilson with officials from Detroit and nearby Warren, Mich., in which Wilson used profanity.

The deputy mayor of Warren told the Free Press that officials from the two cities worked together to help produce the report. Wilson has recently investigated administrators from both cities, examining Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick’s expenses, including the lease of a $57,000 sport utility vehicle, and alleged improper behavior by Warren’s police chief while on a trip to Costa Rica.

“There has been no showing ever that any of our reporting either about the city of Warren or the city of Detroit has been inaccurate in any respect. This video is an effort to essentially smear me as a reporter,” Wilson said in an interview. “It’s full of distortions and outright lies.”

Wilson said he respects the right to free expression even if it is critical of him, but believes it should not be done with public funds on a public channel and must be accurate. While he said the program would not affect his reporting, he sees how other reporters might engage in more self-censorship as a result of the government access program.

Jeffrey Hunt, the chairman of the Detroit Cable Commission, responsible for the programming on the government access channel, told the Free Press that the show about Wilson goes against his agency’s guidelines.

Hunt told the Free Press that he attempted to take the show off the air after first viewing it May 22, but was told by Kilpatrick’s assistant that the mayor wanted the report to continue airing.

Commission Executive Producer Jamaine Dickens, an executive on loan from the mayor’s office and Kilpatrick’s former spokesman, produced the program, but told the Free Press that the mayor did not request the show. Dickens told the newspaper the program was designed as a public service.

The Detroit City Council is considering firing Dickens for producing the program under provisions of the city charter allowing the council to force appointed officials to forfeit their offices, but is waiting for legal advice about the criteria that would need to be met and the process involved, Council President Maryann Mahaffey said. Council President Pro Tempore Kenneth Cockrel Jr. said he expected to receive that advice soon and to decide in about two weeks.

Mahaffey said the council is also discussing changing the ordinance that sets up the cable commission to give the council more control.

In a May 31 editorial, The Detroit News called for the Federal Communications Commission and state election officials to investigate. The FCC does not regulate profanity on cable television.

Wilson and WXYZ-TV News Director Andrea Parquet-Taylor said they do not intend to file a lawsuit in response to the program.

“We believe in our right to tell stories and to uncover information, and we will continue on,” Parquet-Taylor said. “I don’t think it would discourage us from doing our job in the professional manner we’ve always done,” she added.

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