LGBT alliance questions KTSM report on city domestic partner issue
by Sito Negron
Posted on September 1, 2009
A coalition of LGBT groups and supporters said in a news release that KTSM (Channel 9) sided with anti-gay activists who cited their religious beliefs in opposing a city policy to grant benefits to "domestic partners," unmarried people who live together and fit various criteria. [npt background]
They were angered that the report included live interviews with two opponents of the measure, Pastor Tom Brown of El Paso’s Word of Life Church and El Paso resident Barry Martin, and only had a taped clip from city Rep. Steve Ortega to represent the views of supporters. [ktsm report]
"In the interview, Pastor Brown and Mr. Martin issued opinions regarding the budget provision and making references to the LGBT community, without a direct representative of the latter to respond," states the news release, which was signed by 10 groups and individuals, including a local LULAC council and a member of the state Democratic executive committee. [see the news release and signatories here.]
Kim Bridger, the station's news director, said the report was aimed at a particular part of the controversy -- the opponents' efforts to force a city election -- and that supporters' views on that issue were represented by Ortega.
"This was a story about the petition. It was the next phase of the story and there will be more," she said. "I applaud all these groups wanting to be heard -- it's a sign of good things for our community. As far as the coverage that day, the story stands on its own. What we were covering was a petition drive and not every single side of the debate that had been going for weeks."
Alex Guzman, political and legislative liaison for Rio Grande Adelante, which coordinated and released the statement, said that wasn't enough. He noted that the opponents of the measure were able to argue that they had widespread community support, and include anti-gay comments, with very little resistance.
As one example, Martin said in response to a question why voters should support overturning the policy that the policy "sends a strong message to everybody in our town, especially the kids." Martin also asserted that the policy was "insurance to make sure our tax bills stay high."
There was no follow-up question to either statement, and nobody on the other side to rebut the comments or to ask what Martin meant.
Brown said in the interview that he thought his group would easily get the number of signatures needed to force an election, and asserted that El Paso would vote to overturn the policy. In that case, there was some rebuttal, as the clip of Ortega showed him saying he would hope most El Pasoans "are fair-minded" and would see the value in the policy. However, in another statement, when Brown said that his group had help because they thought the city would do whatever it could to derail the petition, there was no one to defend the city's position, and no follow-up question that would allow Brown to present some evidence to back up the assertion.
The LGBT alliance statement applauded the El Paso City Council and argued that the KTSM report was "a form of
discrimination that undermines the freedom of all the citizens of El Paso." They ask for the opportunity to be interviewed, "preferably in a format similar to that afforded Pastor Brown and Mr. Martin. Should this not be granted, we request a formal on-air apology from KTSM for its slight toward our community, including its reasons for refusing to grant us an interview."
Bridger said the station would not specifically respond to the request, but did say "we'll be following this story as it develops and we'll call members of (the GLBT community) as the story warrants." [Editor's note: The previous two paragraphs were added to this story at 4:15 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2009.]
Bridger said that critiques of the final product are part of the journalism business.
"I took many, many phone calls that day and I didn’t have any problem having respectful conversations with anyone," she said. "I've been doing this a long time and there's always room for criticism. I don’t take it lightly and I appreciate it when I get it."
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