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

AUGUSTA — As they have maintained for the past eight months, broadcasters in central Maine said Thursday they will no longer air home games for Cony High School athletic teams now that the Augusta Board of Education has approved policies regulating commentary and advertising.

The new policies also require broadcasters pay to cover Cony’s home games.

“(The school district) has made the decision quite simple on two fronts,” said Mike Violette of Mix Maine Media, which broadcasts high school sporting events for radio station WSKW Legacy 1160. “We aren’t in the business of paying to do athletic events at a high school level on a Tuesday night in January.”

Of the policy, which spells out “appropriate” commentary and advertising during broadcasts, Violette added: “My station management and ownership felt very uncomfortable with what we felt was Big Brother watching us. The best way to phrase it: This policy is a solution in search of a problem.”

Rob Munzing of Munzing Media said Thursday his company will also avoid home games at Cony.

“As we said, if the policy is enacted we will not be requesting streaming permission from Cony,” he said in an email. “We will continue to stream Gardiner/Cony games from Gardiner or when Gardiner is the home team from neutral sites such as the Ice Vault.”

Munzing noted his business had a “very good relationship” with former Augusta Athletic Director Paul Vachon and coaches Bob Lippert and T.J. Maines. He said it bothers him the school district wants to review sponsors for broadcasts.

“These are people who have been very loyal,” Munzing said, adding many have supported Munzing Media since it began broadcasting games in 2010. “They have made it possible for us to stream games in the state.

“That bothers me they would want to see all the ads. That takes time, as well.”

As someone who has been involved with high school athletics since 1975, whether as a coach, umpire or broadcaster, Munzing also took issue with the policy on what can be said during broadcasts.

“There’s an insinuation that people that have been broadcasting their games have been negative toward players and coaches and officials,” Munzing said. “That bothers me. I take pride in the fact our coverage is evenhanded and appropriate for the age group we’re covering.

“I don’t see that (negative coverage) up here, I just don’t,” Munzing added, noting he has received many positive comments about his broadcasts. “If anybody ever did have a problem with my coverage, I would hope they would contact me.”

Violette also said he’s told Cony coaches the station will broadcast their games when they’re on the road.

“There are ways around it,” he said. “We’re going to get them on the road. There’s no reason to fight this.

“They have spent an inordinate amount of time on this foolishness. Apparently all the school issues must be solved, because they’ve dedicated a whole lot of time on this,” Violette added. “How this serves the kids, I have no idea. This is the dumbest thing ever to waste time on at school board meetings and writing this policy.”

In the policy, there is a section related to gender balance of broadcasts, suggesting broadcasters cover an equal number of contests for boys and girls sports.

Munzing said of the approximately 100 games Munzing Media streamed from the start of the fall 2019 season through March, there was nearly a 50-50 split between male and female sports broadcasts.

“Boys and men’s sports probably had seven more games that we covered, because we did some sports that were just men’s sports for the colleges,” Munzing said. “For Central Maine Community College, we were 50-50 on basketball, but they also have men’s hockey.

“For high school, we were probably right down the middle. We’re an equal-opportunity streamer and we always will be.”

While Munzing said one school board member did reach out informally on Facebook, no member of the school administration sought input from him as the policy was being crafted. He said it has been pretty clear from social media posts and previous reporting where he stood on the policy.

“It’s a problem I don’t think existed,” Munzing said. “I know we have a positive relationship with many schools and we’ll continue to foster that relationship.

“Nobody knows what’s going to happen (with the coronavirus pandemic), but there may not be spectators. Schools are asking for coverage of sports we’ve never covered before.”

Violette said his station is not planning to fight the policy. There are 15 school districts in its listening area, he said, that will be happy to have the station broadcast their games.

Suzanne Goucher, president and chief executive officer of the Maine Association of Broadcasters, said the organization has not taken a formal position on Augusta’s policy. She said discussion of the policy is on the agenda for the association’s board meeting next Tuesday, but it was too early to tell whether the MAB board would pursue legal action.

Offering her personal opinion, not that of the association, Goucher said she sees the policy as problematic. She said the policy creates subjective decision-making in several instances, both with regard to commentary and advertising that is allowed during the broadcasts.

“The question of whether, under this policy, an announcer’s comment is inappropriate is extremely subjective,” she said. “Someone could say something inadvertently and suddenly a station is banned from covering the games. Who’s going to be the arbiter of that?”

Stations already do not accept tobacco advertising, Goucher said, and have been advised not to run marijuana ads.

“I don’t think any common-sense station would advertise for liquor or bars during a high school athletic event,” she said. “To say the school has to review ads before they go on the air strikes me as an overreach. Again, who is the arbiter of what is appropriate and what is not?”

She also noted there does not appear to be a mechanism in the policy for a station to appeal the school district’s decisions.

“I don’t see anything that would allow for an appeal based on First Amendment grounds,” Goucher said. “Having dealt with numerous First Amendment issues over the years, this strikes me as something that creates more problems than it solves.”

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