Georgia’s Public Telecommunications Commission Couldn’t Even Phone It In

Today’s meeting of the Georgia Public Telecommunications Commission, the state oversight body that governs GPB, was canceled.

Not abruptly, this notice was posted two weeks ago, but while other state commissions and governmental bodies have managed to meet via streaming or teleconference.

Even Commissions without Telecommunications in their name.

GPB was already facing financial struggles before the pandemic and recession.

It lost $5 Million LAST year. And $10 Million on its radio operations.

To see how Public Broadcasting Atlanta was faring, I recently asked via webpage for copies of its own board minutes and FY2019 audit. I received no reply, but PBA did finally post its audit on its website.

While not as substantial as at GPB, PBA also saw a decline from FY2018 to 19.

One cause of the decline is its own increased efforts to directly compete with GPB’s TV operations.

Long a lower-cost, 2nd run PBS affiliate, in 2018 PBA30 upped its status to first run in a more direct competition with GPB’s Athens-Atlanta station Channel 8.

My fear is that while news deserts are growing throughout Georgia, the state’s two largest public broadcasters are both losing money by directly competing in Atlanta. Now on both TV and radio.

The pandemic is a trying time for local news. A surge in news subscriptions and interest has been undercut by dramatic losses in advertising. Layoffs and closures have already occurred in Georgia.

It’s also a time of heightened cynicism towards mainstream media from both supporters of President Trump and increasingly frustrated Progressive critics.

Anti-Establishment Bernie Sanders voters and anti-corruption Elizabeth Warren supporters seeking Big Structural Change both saw corporate media, through hostility, marginalization or erasure, as serving the interests of corporations and oligarchs. Not reformers.

The failure of Georgia political leaders, who use GPB as state media, or GPB’s media partners like the Atlanta Press Club, the AJC, and NPR to demand more accountability from the network’s CEO and Board certainly fits the progressive critique.

Does the media hold the powerful accountable or protect insider relationships? Is it a public service or court stenography?

That the richest person in Georgia in 2020 is, again, the heir to the Cox Media dynasty suggests big structural changes in the state’s status quo won’t come from the AJC or its media partners.

News fatigue and a wider recession suggest steeper losses for local media lie ahead.

The most recent stimulus bill included $75 million for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to use as emergency stabilization grants.

The language specified rural broadcasters which may leave PBA out, but given GPB’s lack of accountability, a federal bailout without significant changes seems wrong.

My fear is GPB would use such money not to shore up news coverage in rural GA but to triple down in Atlanta.

If past actions are an indication they’d likely cut their presence in Macon and Savannah and add a third hour of Political Rewind, the radio safe space for insider politics and Denton’s lobbyists.

As for Georgia’s politicians, as long as they keep getting airtime and non-confrontational interviews neither Georgia’s establishment Republicans nor its establishment Democrats seem to care if the state’s public broadcaster is financially sound or ethically governed.

Not Us, Them.

Update: Since posting this last Wed. the Corporation for Public Broadcasting announced the formula and funding of emergency grants.

Both GPB and PBA will get grants and for both TV and radio. $260,205 each to PBA30 and GPB TV.

Radio grants of $75,000 to both PBA’s WABE and GPB’s WJSP, the Columbus station through which they also account for their operations on WRAS in Atlanta.

GPB’s Athens station WUGA will also receive $112,136 as will independent Clark-Atlanta jazz station WCLK.

There appears to be no major strings attached to the grants.

Meanwhile on Thursday GPB informed me an Open Records Request for board communications surrounding the canceled meeting would be delayed by a month and a half.

And over the weekend, a sponsored ad for GPB’s CEO appeared in my Facebook feed.

A search finds it began running in Jan. The same month GPB laid off several employees.

Beyond tone deaf, it again shows that no one is holding GPB’s leadership accountable. Not its Commission, not Georgia’s state legislature, not its media partners, and not the CPB.

Atlanta writer and comedian. Occasional citizen journalist. Diagnosed with Asperger’s at age 40. No relation to Steve.