It seemed obvious. The media love controversy, and in Arizona and Colorado, growth-control initiatives on the Nov. 7 ballot have been extremely controversial (HCN, 10/23/00: Arizona's 202 takes aim at sprawl). So of course the public-minded, public-broadcast stations would want to air Subdivide and Conquer, a film about sprawl. Yet the film has had trouble getting on public television before the election in Phoenix and Denver.
The film's co-producer, Jeff Gersh, says Phoenix's KAET told him it liked the film but felt that it was too unbalanced to show to viewers so close to the election, even though, Gersh says, the station already has a weekly program, Horizons, which often presents biased views on urban development. When 700 people complained to the station about the slight to Subdivide and Conquer, KAET decided to air the film on prime time.
Now, Gersh says, he has run into similar problems in Colorado, where "Responsible Growth" Amendment 24 is on the ballot. Gersh says Denver PBS station KRMA told him they were reluctant to run the film before the election. After hearing "rumblings" from the public, however, he says the station decided to air the documentary on Sunday, Nov. 5 at 2 p.m. Gersh points out that this is a slot dominated by football.
KRMA denies they ever took issue with the film. Communications director Tiffany Tyson says that the Sunday time slot has nothing to do with the election. "The program wouldn't be in our schedule if it wasn't balanced," she says. Phoenix's KAET declined to comment for this story.
"I view public television as public education," says Subdivide and Conquer co-producer Chelsea Congdon. "The film was designed to be educational about sprawl, and we worked hard to avoid blaming anyone."
The hour-long documentary won Best Environmental Film at the 2000 Telluride Mountain FilmFestival. It can be sampled and ordered at www.subdividefilm.com.