Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Legislative panel subpoenas unaired WUNC TV documentary

5 p.m. UPDATE:  UNC TV spokesman Steve Volstad says  there's not a documentary, but three reports in the works that UNC TV plans to air. They're unfinished at the moment, he says.

Here's something new: the Senate Judiciary II Committee, chaired by Sen. Fletcher Hartsell, R-Cabarrus, has subpoenaed UNC-TV for a copy of a documentary the television agency has prepared but has not broadcast. Hartsell said Wednesday night the committee met after the legislative session Wednesday and agreed to request the documentary and, just to make sure, to formally subpoena it as well.

The subject of the documentary is Alcoa, which is seeking renewal of its federal license to operate hydroelectric generating stations on the Yadkin River. The Perdue administration has opposed the license renewal before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and wants the legislature to pass a bill that would create a way for the state to purchase the hydro plants.

What's especially interesting is that this represents a fairly rare issuance of a subpoena for materials by a legislative committee -- but it's extremely rare, sources say, for a committee to subpoena a documentary or a news story that has not run. I don't know if this has happened before. This raises all kinds of questions about the relationship between branches of the government -- in this case, legislative versus executive, in that UNC-TV is an agency overseen by the UNC Board of Governors. And it also involves the power of the state versus the academy. Yikes! Controversy? Complications? Clashes of conscience? Oh, you bet.

I have no clue what the documentary would say or why UNC-TV has not broadcast the documentary. I can tell you that if the agency complies and hands over the documentary, Hartsell's plan is to show it in a committee session on Tuesday, July 6 at 9 a.m in Room 643 of the Legislative Office Building in Raleigh.

I don't have any information about compliance, but if I were running UNC-TV, I wouldn't wait. I'd run the documentary over the weekend and then give the committee all the copies of  the thing it wants. When you've got people demanding to see something you're put together, it seems a fair bet that the ratings would be high.

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