Augusta schools’ proposal to restrict broadcast media rejected

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AUGUSTA – A nine-page policy proposal placing restrictions on media coverage of sporting events at Cony High School and other schools in Augusta has been rejected by the Augusta Board of Education, after broadcasters said if the policy is passed, they will not be covering any events at schools in the city. .

The proposal, modeled on the policies of local school officials found in Florida, was sent to the policy committee, by a unanimous school board vote. Board members said the policy needed to be revised, this time with input from broadcasters.

At Wednesday’s board meeting, broadcasters, including a seasoned radio announcer, said they couldn’t afford to pay the per-game fee to cover games and that the proposed new rules qu ‘they should follow are both unnecessary and so onerous that they might have to hire. a lawyer to play games with them.

Instead, Mike Violette of Mix Maine Media, who hosts a morning show and broadcasts high school sports events for the Legacy 1160 WSKW radio station, said if the policy was passed as proposed they would no longer cover the matches. at Cony’s home.

“As it stands, if this policy is passed, we will not be broadcasting your (home) games, and neither will anyone else,” Violette told board members ahead of their. vote. “I felt that after reading your policy, maybe I should get a lawyer to come to the game and sit next to me. You literally discussed, in politics, what we can and cannot say on air.

The proposed policy would charge any outlet wishing to broadcast Augusta school events on television, radio or the Internet a fee of $ 50 for each regular season game and $ 100 for each playoff game.

Its proposed rules included a requirement that advertisers refrain from using coarse or harsh language and inappropriately criticizing officials, coaches, teams, players, schools or other entities.

He provided examples of inappropriate criticism: “This official clearly has no idea what he’s doing. Coach Smith is expected to be fired. Joe Smith shouldn’t start.

And an appropriate criticism: “We don’t know what resulted in the sanction. We will seek further clarification. Coach Smith made a mistake which now has his team down late in the game. Joe Smith is really struggling right now. We’ll see if he can bounce back.

The policy would also have required outlets to submit the names of all sponsors and would allow the school department to review all advertisers and advertisements to be served during the broadcast, and to ban all advertising for alcoholic beverages, tobacco products, guns, bars and taverns, exotic dance clubs or political issues.

Mike Violette, right, speaks on a live broadcast on December 6 of the Cony’s boys basketball game to Lawrence on WSKW Legacy 1160 radio station. During her morning radio show Tuesday, Violette has said he opposed the proposed live broadcast rules for Cony High matches. . Photo from Journal Kennebec by Joe Phelan Buy this photo

Exceptions to these banned advertisements included advertisements for mixed businesses, such as grocery stores and restaurants, that sell alcoholic beverages, tobacco or firearms as well as other items, as long as no part of the advertisements mentions these prohibited products.

While it would have banned advertising on political issues, “political candidates may be acceptable as sponsors provided that no part of their political advertising raises controversial political issues.”

Kim Silsby, principal of Cony, said the intent of the policy was to support and protect Augusta students by addressing a number of issues.

“These are the areas that we were concerned about to protect our students, to serve our students,” she said.

Superintendent James Anastasio said at a December 2 policy committee meeting where the proposal was discussed before it was passed to the full board that the proposal was the result of a problem. occurred during reunion week and that plans around that week focused on a Cony soccer game. He said critics of the plan threatened to make a problem with the focus on the boys’ football game while not paying similar attention to a women’s sporting event.

Initially, the policy was that any medium that broadcast a game of one genre would also broadcast a game of the opposite genre. However, this part of the proposal has been amended by the Policy Committee, to encourage, but not require, outlets to do so.

Jon Millett, athletic director, said at Wednesday’s board meeting that the proposal “was responsive to the gender issue and kind of turned into a rat hole as we started borrowing this route ”, and other provisions have been added.

He said the fees were proposed to help schools make up for lost income for people who watch games at home, by webcasting, instead of coming in and paying to watch the games.

No other members of the public commented on the proposal on Wednesday, but the school department, through an online survey system created to collect community feedback on the proposed policies, asked 108 people to complete a poll or leave comments on the proposal. Deputy superintendent Donna Madore said 76% of respondents or comments were not in favor of the policy.

Ben Lucas, a Cony graduate and athlete who won the Fitzpatrick Trophy as the state’s best high school football player in 2014, now lives in Portland but still follows Cony’s sports passionately, he said. . Lucas added that he and other Cony alumni watched games released on the web by Munzing Media and other entities, and listened to games on the radio. When asked what he thought of the matter, by phone Thursday, he said he was upsetting when he learned of the new policy and because of it, broadcasters threatened to stop broadcasting. cover Cony’s home games.

“I’ve been following Cony’s sports since I was 5 and always try to follow them with a passion because I care about Cony and the Augusta community,” said Lucas, a political consultant in Portland. “Last Friday night Cony’s first basketball game at Lawrence I listened to on the radio. And during the football season, a few games were streamed and I watched them as well. For the Cony vs. Windham football, we turned the stream up to the TV in our living room, following. “

He said school officials would be doing the students a disservice if the policy resulted in Cony’s matches not being shown. He said friends and family of the players, as well as Cony’s alumni spread across the country, were watching webcast broadcasts of the matches.

He also said that student-athletes love their games to be broadcast and later in life watch recordings of their old games and remember them.

Representatives from Munzing Media, which broadcasts many local high school sporting events, did not attend Wednesday’s school board meeting. However, the company’s Facebook page said it was “doubtful that we will be releasing Cony games in the future” if the policy is approved.

Silsby said school officials couldn’t find any schools in Maine with media coverage policies, but found a model policy used by high schools in the state of Florida.

She said the school department attorney reviewed the proposed policy to make sure they were doing things the way they should.

Violette said that when his station wants to broadcast a game to another high school in Maine, all he has to do is call the athletic director or the school official to ask and he is always welcome, and never charged any fees or required to complete. an application.

Earlier this school year, while the policy was being drafted, school administrators banned outside media from showing Cony’s sporting events.

Local access channel CTV-7, which has a contract to cover Augusta city and school events, has meanwhile broadcast and webcast the boys and girls basketball games. Cony’s daughters.

Several school board members said they hoped outside outlets, beyond CTV-7, would be allowed to broadcast Cony’s games while the policy was reviewed by the policy committee.

“I think what’s happened here is that everyone acts with the best of intentions and tries to do what’s best for the students,” said Amanda Olson, board member. “If things are televised by CTV-7, hopefully we’ll give the same opportunity to radio stations or whoever else (wants to broadcast games) until the policy is passed.”

When asked to clarify if this would happen, board chairman Ed Hastings said school administrators overheard board members express their desire to return to allowing outlets to broadcast events in the meantime, but said the decision was up to the administration.

Neither Anastasio, Millett or Silsby could be reached on Thursday afternoon on whether outlets would be allowed to broadcast Cony matches while the policy is under review.


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