People are talking about Midland Community Television. And it’s not because anyone watches Midland Community Television. They don’t.
The controversy surrounds the current Michigan House of Representatives District 98 Rep, Annette Glenn, and her challenger Sarah Schulz. You never knew public television could be so controversial, or that anyone could give a crap about it at all, really.
The controversy is this:
Sarah Schulz hosted a little-watched show on Midland Community Television (MCTV) called “People Over Politics.” The show was a thinly-veiled campaign show all about how awesome Sarah Schulz is, and how nobody does community better than Sarah Schulz.
Ordinarily, this would be a violation of campaign and election laws. However, Annette Glenn also has a show on MCTV called “Hometown Heroes.” It’s a thinly-veiled campaign show all about how awesome Annette Glenn is, and how nobody does community better than Annette Glenn.
The people giving a crap is the Michigan House Republican Campaign Committee. Their attorneys, Dickinson & Wright, sent a cease and desist letter to tell the station to stop running Schulz’ show. The stop-in-the-name-of-the-law letter doesn’t get into equal opportunity political advertising issues. Instead, they rely on Michigan laws that prohibit corporations to make campaign contributions. They say that allowing the show is an in-kind campaign contribution.
The letter doesn’t mention that Annette Glenn is doing the same exact freaking darn thing.
The law firm of Dickinson & Wright might as well start calling themselves the law firm of Dickinson & Wrong, although I’m sure I’m not the first person to think of that nickname. They rely on the Michigan Campaign Finance Act to argue that, in airing the show, MCTV is essentially giving Schulz an in-kind contribution. The law defines an in-kind contribution as: “In-kind contribution or expenditure” means a contribution or expenditure other than money. Here is the definition of contribution: “Contribution” means a payment, gift, subscription, assessment, expenditure, contract, payment for services, dues, advance, forbearance, loan, or donation of money or anything of ascertainable monetary value, or a transfer of anything of ascertainable monetary value to a person, made for the purpose of
influencing the nomination or election of a candidate…”
Sorry, but free/no-cost access to public television isn’t a contribution. It’s a free platform. Whatever point Dickinson & Wrong might have on the point, what’s good for the Midland goose is good for the Midland gander, because the station would be in the exact same trouble for providing Glenn similar access. In other words, it’s both shows or none, and the Michigan law doesn’t stretch as far as Dickinson & Wrong wants it to so as to require Schulz to pay a particular price for the show.
Even if the law did qualify to trigger Schulz to pay for access to the show, first, Glenn would have to pay, too, and second, what exactly is the value of a half hour of programming on MCTV? 35 cents tops?
If you want to go produce your own MCTV show about oven mitts, you can. Citizens of Midland County, go try it. Produce your show about oven mitts. Go hand it in, and it’ll be on at 2 p.m. Right after the community hymn sing (they really had one on MCTV), and the Methodist Church hour of tolerance. What do you think Wayne’s World was? A couple of stoners in the basement who had a show on public television in Illinois. For those of you who are too young for Wayne’s World, Between Two Ferns is a parody of a public access television shows.
The Midland City Attorney, get that man a stress ball, or yoga, or tea or something. He sends back this firey letter. The defense is basically that MCTV isn’t very popular. James O. Branson III, who obviously feels some level of dissatisfaction with his legal career, writes back citing the low number of YouTube hits that each of the shows has gotten, as though that has something to do with anything.
MCTV pulls the show, then shortly after, they decide to reinstate it. They cite the wrong reasons, but reach the right result. They say that the shows aren’t really political, and the people are just identifying themselves. They say no one is getting economic or commercial gain from doing it, and that both parties have paid appropriate fees.
Okay, being incidental to a broadcast isn’t really a thing when you’re a political candidate, so they’re wrong about that. What they should have mentioned is the Federal Communications laws requiring equal access to broadcasting opportunities for political candidates. Non-commercial broadcasters do not have comply with FCC regulations that require reasonable access to air time. Apparently that went out the window when candidates started demanding air time on NPR.
What non-commercial broadcasters have to do is provide equal opportunities under the Communications Act of 1934. They must offer the same rate to all candidates. If they give one candidate an amount of time, other candidates have to have equal opportunities to get the same amount of time for the same rate. In other words, anyone, literally anyone, can become a legally qualified candidate for the 98th district and pay the same fee to have a half-hour show on MCTV.
So there it is. Either both shows stay or both shows go. Either way, no one will be watching them, and James O. Branson III might calm down eventually. Good luck Midland, with your county sheriff and now your political drama of the century. Party on Wayne…Party on Garth.