February 24, 2018
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Don’t tune out Washington County

By Katherine Cassidy Marie Emerson and Dennis Mahar, Special to the BDN

Seems that Maine has its own version of pay-to-play at work. Maine Public Broadcasting Network’s decision to cut back on signal distribution in Calais and Fort Kent was based, in part, on fewer paying members located in Maine’s two most rural and remote counties. MPBN vice president David Morse defended MPBN’s deci-sion in his Dec. 27 OpEd “Don’t tune out MPBN when the money gets tight.” To that, we reply: Don’t tune out Washington County when the money gets tight.

How quickly the MPBN management has forgotten: Barely two years ago, MPBN conducted nine listening sessions around the state. The one in Machias in late January 2007 — hastily scheduled, they should recall — drew 25 people, some of whom drove 25 or 30 miles from Cooper or Lubec. They gathered to talk about all the ways that MPBN is meaningful to their daily lives here in Washington County.

The attendance was appreciated by MPBN president Jim Dowe, who mentioned that just one other listening session had drawn as many as 25 people. It wasn’t Portland, and it wasn’t Lewiston, either, apparently the strongholds of MPBN-land. He clearly was impressed by the response of Washington County listeners. That the Machias meeting took place at 1 in the afternoon — inconvenient for most of us — suggests attendance might have been greater if an evening meeting had been called, as happened elsewhere.

Maybe it’s time for Mr. Dowe to return to Machias, so we can tell him again just how much MPBN contributes to our modest, but wonderful, lives. The residents of Washington County deserve to be listened to at this time of MPBN’s decision, however temporary. We value MPBN just as much as listeners downstate. We resent the unspoken sentiment in return, that we are not valued as much as MPBN’s audiences elsewhere.

We know about tough times economically as much as anyone. We know MPBN is facing new budget limitations. But honestly, how much money will MPBN be saving by denying parts of the state the only public radio we can get? And what’s our guarantee that our darkness will be merely temporary for six months, that we will truly return to the MPBN family in July?

Having public broadcasting in our midst is a choice that people appreciate now more than ever. Public broadcasting has been ranked — for five years straight by the National Roper Survey — as the nation’s “most trusted institution.” From that same poll, released last June, Americans also consider public broadcasting an excel-lent value for taxpayer dollars, second only to the defense of our nation.

Here in Maine, MPBN trustees set forth their own five-year Strategic Plan just in July 2007. It concludes: “It is our highest hope that … the relationships we cultivate with the people and institutions of Maine will thrive and continuously impact the quality of life here in the Great State of Maine.”

We enjoy a tremendous quality of life here in Washington County. As a precious community resource, MPBN is part of our fabric. MPBN’s announcement about leaving Washington County off the list simply is the latest kick in the teeth for us by decision-makers downstate.

We ask MPBN insiders to take a closer look at exactly who they are, and why Washington County is not better represented among their ranks. There are 22 members of MPBN’s board of trustees. Just one of them — Barry McCrum of Mars Hill — hails from Aroostook County. None of them lives in Washington County.

MPBN additionally has a Community Advisory Board. Yet of its 18 volunteers, not one of them lives in Washington or Aroostook counties. By MPBN’s own words, the Community Advisory Board’s primary purpose is “serving as MPBN’s ‘eyes and ears’ throughout Maine.”

Mr. Dowe’s second strong identity on the Maine landscape is as a member of the board of trustees for the University of Maine System. Another MPBN trustee, Joe Wishcamper, doubles as the chair of the UMS board of trustees and other MPBN trustees serve on the UMS board.

What are these community leaders going to pursue next? Let’s hope it’s not the shuttering of UMS campuses in both Washington and Aroostook counties.

Katherine Cassidy of Machias, Marie Emerson of Addison and Dennis Mahar of Pembroke all listen to MPBN radio on WMED 89.7 from Calais.

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