Working high above center court, the Munzing Media team covers an Eastern Class A tournament game between Skowhegan and Bangor on Feb. 15, 2013, at the Augusta Civic Center. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal file

While it was a split vote, the Augusta Board of Education approved the first reading Wednesday of a controversial new policy regulating how broadcasters cover Cony school events.

Board members voted 4-2 to approve the new rules, previously twice turned away by the school board for what members said was a lack of input from broadcasters who’d be impacted by the policy. School officials believe the regulations to be the first of its kind in a Maine school system.

Broadcasters who have previously covered Cony sporting events over the radio and internet have said if the policy is passed they will no longer cover or broadcast any Cony home games.

The two board members who voted against the policy, Pia Holmes and Kati McCormick, said an effort should be made to reach out to members of the broadcast media to get their input into the policy. Parents, Cony alumni and others have expressed disappointment the policy may result in Cony games no longer being broadcast by outlets that have allowed them to follow Cony’s teams when they can’t attend them in person.

“My feeling is we should have everyone at the table to really discuss this. If we could sit down with the stakeholders, the media, and have a talk with them and reach an agreement that works for all,” Holmes said. “If we could just follow through on what was said about having media input I’d feel more comfortable supporting this. It bothers me there has been community discord on this.”

The policy was sent back, by the school board to its policy committee, twice previously with direction to the committee to seek input from broadcasters. However Amanda Olson, a member of the committee, said in general the way the board seeks input on policies is by putting surveys on the schools’ website and allowing the public to comment on them.

Olson said the committee considered reaching out to broadcasters for their input on the policy but Cony Principal Kim Silsby, one of the prime advocates and drafters of the policy, told her that to be consistent with how other policies are adopted public input on the policy should be taken via the online survey method.

Olson said board members heard from representatives of the media at a previous board meeting and it appeared some comments on the latest survey about the policy had come from broadcasters.

Mike Violette, right, does a live broadcast Dec. 6, 2019, of the Cony at Lawrence boys’ basketball game on radio station WSKW Legacy 1160. During his morning radio show Dec. 10, Violette said he opposed the proposed live broadcasting rules for Cony High games. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan Buy this Photo

At a December 2019 board meeting, Mike Violette of Mix Maine Media, who hosts a morning show and broadcasts high school sporting events for radio station Legacy 1160 WSKW, said if the policy passed as proposed they would no longer cover any Cony home games.

Rob Munzing, of Munzing Media, which covers many local high school sporting and other events, and used to cover Cony events, also said they would no longer cover Cony home games due to the policy.

Board member Kevin Lamoreau referred to statements by Munzing on Twitter that Muzing Media would no longer be covering Cony home games due to the policy as making his views on the policy clear.

“I’m not sure stakeholders want to sit down and talk about this, I think some stakeholders are dead set against this,” Lamoreau said. “I’m not sure what that would accomplish. This is the first reading, there is still time to contact us before it becomes policy.”

The revised policy significantly reduced the fees proposed to be charged to radio, television and internet broadcast entities to broadcast Cony sports, which was a concern expressed in the December meeting. It initially called for $50 for each regular season game and $100 for each playoff game. That proposal was adjusted to an annual $25 processing fee that would cover events for one school year.

But restrictions on broadcasters remain, including a requirement for “objective announcing” and a ban on inappropriate criticism of officials, coaches, teams, players, schools or other entities.

It provides examples of inappropriate criticism: “This official clearly has no clue what he’s doing.” “Coach Smith should be fired.” “Joe Smith should not be starting.”

And appropriate criticism: “We are unsure as to what drew the penalty. We will search for further clarification. Coach Smith made a mistake that now has his team down late in this game. Joe Smith is really struggling at the moment. We’ll see if he can bounce back.”

The policy also would require broadcast outlets to submit the names of all sponsors and allow the school department to review all advertisements to be run during the broadcast. In a tweet, Munzing said he would not submit his sponsors to be approved by Cony officials. He said other Maine schools welcome their coverage of school events, without restrictions.

Board members who voted to approve the policy Wednesday said it will help protect students.

“The ultimate goal was always ‘let’s protect the students,'” said Staci Fortunato, chairwoman of the policy committee. “It sounds restrictive, like we’re trying to shut down any streaming of our games, but that’s not true. We’re providing an opportunity and setting guidelines for folks who want to come broadcast our games.”

Assistant Superintendent Donna Madore said 16 people responded to a survey about the policy, some of whom were school administrators, while other respondents included parents and citizens.

She said a majority of respondents, 61%, were in favor of the policy. Comments left via the surveys included “if no one broadcasts the games school spirit will suffer,” “this shows how much the district cares about student athletes,” “I fail to see any benefit of the policy,” and “the world we live in is full of people who say and do what they want, this policy protects students from those who may be unkind.”

Silsby said the policy’s intention was to support and protect Augusta’s students by addressing a number of issues. Administrators based the policy on one from a Florida school, because none existed in Maine.

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