BELO CENSORS GUILD
IN SHAREHOLDER WEBCAST
Just hours after its annual stockholders' meeting ended May 9 in Dallas, Belo Corp. placed a video and audio account of the meeting on its corporate website, a so-called "webcast" of excerpts of the 1½ hour session.
But if far-away shareholders
hoped to watch the proceedings for themselves, they were in for a disappointment.
Belo censors cut out
key presentations at the meeting, including those by two officials of
the Providence Newspaper Guild, who told stockholders about troubled labor
negotiations and their possible negative financial impact at the Belo-owned
Providence Journal in Rhode Island.
In fact, the editing
of the webcast made it seem like Robert W. Decherd, Belo's chairman, had
sought discussion and questions from shareholders, but none were offered,
when in fact Brian Jones and Kerry Kohring addressed shareholders at three
different points in the meeting.
This censorship may not come as a surprise to the 500 men and women who belong to the Guild back in Providence: they have grown used to having their own paper largely ignoring news of the contract dispute and its possible economic harm to the newspaper.
But censorship is serious stuff, and this is no exception:
· First, the
webcast scissoring is an example of a major communications company cooking
the books, in terms of its reporting on its own affairs, undermining public
confidence in the media's ability to give the news impartially.
it gives stockholders of the company a misleading account of what had
gone on in Dallas, denying them the Guild's view of the financial strain
caused by labor troubles at a major Belo property, as well as management's
And it was not as
if this webcast was an afterthought.
news release Belo issued about the meeting had trumpeted the video
in the lead paragraph:
"A replay of
major presentations at the meeting will be available online for two weeks,
beginning Wednesday May 9 at 6:00 p.m. CDT on the News Releases page of
the Company's Web site at http://www.belo.com.''
It's possible that
the Belo editors didn't consider the Guild's presentation "major.''
But what Kohring,
a copy editor at the Journal, and Jones, a general assignment reporter
there, were telling shareholders sounded serious.
"We would like
to urge the new board to address what we see as the threat to the value
to our shares and those of everyone else in this room posed by the actions
of The Providence Journal Co.," Kohring said.
is continuing to decline, and yet the actions of Journal management have
resulted in the threat of a consumer boycott of circulation and advertising,"
Kohring said. He noted that the federal government has charged the paper
with 30 counts of labor law violation, and that during the troubled negotiations,
55 persons have quit the paper.
Jones said: "I'm
the canary in the mine. There's something going wrong. I'm part of that;
I'm part of sort of a train wreck in Providence that is threatening the
viability of our paper. We have a civil war going on at that paper, when
we need to be pulling together, going in a different direction."
Decherd took the comments
seriously enough to make a detailed response: He said he had confidence
in Journal publisher Howard G. Sutton; that Belo likewise was confident
that the unfair labor practice charges "will be mostly decided in
our favor;" that the exodus of workers was normal attrition; and
that Belo had had a "spectacular experience'' with The Journal.
But web-watchers got
to see neither the union's nor management's version of that dispute. To
the contrary, viewers were led to believe there hadn't been dissent.
The most misleading
cut came during the election of three company directors, the only scheduled
"business" of the meeting, which otherwise was taken up by a
self-congratulatory account of the past year and a rosy forecast for the
"If any shareholder
wishes to speak on the agenda item, you should indicate as such to one
of the ushers now, and he will provide you a microphone," Decherd
said, after announcing the nominees, including former Journal publisher
He asked any speakers
to identify themselves, their number of shares and speak for 5 minutes
"Is there any
discussion on the agenda item?" Decherd said. "If not, then
I declare that the polls are now open for voting on the agenda item."
But there were speakers.
Jones said that Hamblett, seeking reelection as a director, and others
on the board had not properly overseen the labor negotiations in Providence.
And there was another stockholder, a corporate gadfly, who complained
that such elections of directors are not democratic.
At the end of the
meeting, Decherd asked if any shareholders had any other concerns, and
Kohring and Jones gave more details about the Providence troubles, and
the gadfly complained about management stock options. Decherd responded
to those comments, too.
The only hint of clouds
in the sunny corporate sky was to be found in the next day's Belo's Dallas
Morning News, which included two paragraphs noting that Jones and Kohring
had described the labor troubles, and Decherd had said that they were
local matters for competent Providence managers to handle.
The Journal, meanwhile,
maintained its Guild blackout. It reported in a news-briefs item on the
business section front two days later that Hamblett and two other directors
had been reelected.
But there was no mention of two Rhode Islanders who had traveled 1,700 miles to Dallas to vote against the directors and to raise concerns about The Journal.
TNG/CWA Local 31041
270 Westmister St., Providence, Rhode Island 02903
401-421-9466 | Fax: 401-421-9495