It must be said again: The secret meetings must end |

It must be said again: The secret meetings must end

The Aspen Times Editorial

Once again, it’s “the public be damned!”

It’s hard to imagine anything more obviously “public” than the government (“of the people, by the people and for the people”) meeting with three public radio stations to decide how to divvy up the public airwaves.

And yet, this week – again – the Pitkin County Translator Advisory Board held a secret meeting with representatives from the Roaring Fork Valley’s two local public radio stations, KAJX in Aspen and KDNK in Carbondale.

This week’s meeting, like two closed meetings held previously, was to talk about the invasion attempt by Colorado Public Radio, which is hoping to take control of two frequencies used by the local stations to reach listeners outside their immediate broadcast area.

Pitkin County has joined the two local stations by filing applications with the Federal Communication Commission for the same frequencies sought by CPR, a laudable act of the kind that is to be expected from our elected local government.

But what is puzzling is why the translator board, and the representatives of the two stations, continue to insist that they must meet in secret to discuss the CPR incursion.

This newspaper has been a steadfast supporter of both local stations for years, whether in fund-raising drives or in other endeavors geared toward expanding listenership and improving programming quality. And we have been unyielding in our support of their efforts to protect themselves from the CPR “invasion.”

But, as has been noted before in this space, we must draw the line at this inexplicable trend toward secrecy. This is a matter for public debate if ever there was one. These are publicly funded facilities, broadcasting over public airwaves, enjoying the support of governmental subsidies and special status.

It has been argued that a recent engineering study of the whole matter was paid for by private funds from CPR. But CPR itself is a “public” radio station, so nothing it does is “private.”

Our local officials have said we must let the secrecy continue, though their justification for this position has been based on a number of sadly inadequate reasons having to do with the possibility of “future negotiations” either in partnership with CPR or in opposition to it.

But even if their reasons did provide a legal underpinning for the secret meetings, none of it explains why there is any actual need for secrecy.

In the end, they will emerge from their secret meetings with an arrangement that they will ask us all to accept as a good deal. But, without knowing what went into the making of that deal, we will have no way of knowing whether the deal is really a good one. They will ask us to trust them.

But why should we, when they so clearly have slammed the door in our faces?

They will ask us to forget that they felt we could not be trusted and they will ask us to once again open our pocketbooks and support them.

This newspaper continues to be a supporter of our local stations, despite this mistaken tendency toward secrecy in their doings. And when they ask for our support, we will most likely give it – and urge all valley residents to do likewise.

But we cannot be as forgiving of the recent declaration by one downvalley newspaper that this secrecy is acceptable, even supportable.

Newspapers have a basic obligation to act as watchdogs of the public’s right to know. We must demand openness, whenever the doors of government are slammed in our faces. Government in secrecy is, sooner or later, always bad government and we must not abandon our obligation to fight against that secrecy.

By denigrating the seriousness of this issue, and abdicating the media’s role in reporting to the public what the public has a right to know, this editor has betrayed his fellows in the news business.

But, more importantly, he has betrayed his readers, the public.

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