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One selfish broadcast

November 11, 2005

NBC25 (WHAG-TV) should be ashamed of itself.

For the past few days, the Hagerstown-based television station's management has used its news report to trash any idea of objective journalism on its airways and has promoted solely its selfish, financial interest in its dispute with a number of local cable systems.

Shamefully, it's relying on its news viewers to be complicit partners.

Off the top, let us be clear that The Herald-Mail and Washington County's primary cable company, Antietam, are owned by the same company, Schurz Communications Inc. of South Bend, Ind. Schurz and the other primary cable company involved in the dispute, Adelphia, have no business relationship locally.

Let's also be clear that this newspaper has never used its news pages to blatantly promote an action that clearly promotes only our bottom line, as NBC25 has been doing for the past few days. Fact is, newspaper management here would be out of a job if we did so.

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Had you watched the local newscast, you would have thought the most important issue facing the nation the past few days is whether NBC25 is paid to have its broadcast carried on several local cable companies.

Further, the manner that this was presented - as an item on the screen at the bottom of its newscasts - was without objectivity, without fairness and totally in the selfish, narrow interest of the TV station.

One, NBC25 is already free. If you have an antenna, you can get the signal. Two, the local cable companies are actually doing NBC25 a favor by carrying it. The cable companies provide a clean, clear transmission picture, without interruption, to all of their cable subscribers. The cable companies will transmit the signal without charge.

And now NBC25 is asking cable television companies, and in turn, the cable customers, for what amounts to a larger subsidy than it currently receives.

If NBC25 weren't asking for the extra money, would there be a dispute? Of course not. But you won't see that reported on NBC25.

It's a shame that NBC25 management has to trash and embarrass its news operation by allowing its self-interest to trump any journalistic integrity that its newsroom may try to claim, now and in the future. Can you imagine television stations in the metropolitan areas resorting to such bush-league, desperation tactics?

The place to fight this battle is between management and lawyers of the TV station and the cable companies. They've reached a resolution before, and they will likely do so again.

It's regrettable for this community that management of NBC25 has to drag its news operation through the sewer to further its financial end. For those of us who take news reporting seriously, it's been a sad week.

TV journalistic integrity? Maybe in Baltimore and Washington.

But certainly during the past week, not in Hagerstown.

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