Dear John Coate, KZYX GM
I wrote your colleague, news director Paul Hansen, a lengthy email on Dec 1 about the Mendocino Medical Marijuana Board’s concern that John Sakowicz not become KZYX's official news reporter on medical marijuana, based on his stark lack of knowledge on any level, lack of roots in the community and a conflict of interest association with Medical Marijuana Inc., whose roots and mindset are clearly commercial in violation of state law.
I told Hansen that Sakowicz's coverage of the 11/30 H&HS meeting on the 9.31 medical marijuana nuisance ordinance was flawed as an objective news report, without also including statements from the opposition. He agreed that if the report was biased, as I insisted, he would air MMMAB's responses. We never got a reply from him, nor from you, though you were sent a copy.
Sakowicz's report was essentially a fact-free op-ed in praise of county staff — what a wonderful job they're doing “bringing order out of chaos” — and a shameless hustle for Sup John McCowen's controversial medical-marijuana-is-a-public-nuisance regulation legislation (9.31), strongly opposed by the patient majority.
It is not the job of objective news reporters to introduce their own bias in lieu of news or to endorse the legislation of politicians rather than “holding their feet to the fire", especially with such a controversial proposal as 9.31. Opposition to McCowen's regulation ordinance and proof of controversy is in the votes of Sups John Pinches and David Colfax, who think Sup McCowen is wrong and publicly voted against 9.31 in a Ft Bragg BOS meeting, as based on potential violations of civil liberties and constitutional rights. This was not reported, nor were any of the other members of the opposition, which include MMMAB steering committee members Pebbles Trippet and Tom Davenport; New Settler Interviews editor Beth Bosk; former KZYX reporter Sheila Dawn; candidate for 5th District Supervisor Dan Hamburg; Attorneys Keith Faulder, Edie Lerman, Ed Denson, Omar Figueroa, Tony Serra, David Nick, Bill McPike, among others. Why was none of this covered?
Attorney Edie Lerman filed a constitutional challenge to the nuisance ordinance asking the courts for injunctive and declaratory relief. It is calendared for February 2010, around the time of the BOS Public Hearings on whether or not to adopt 9.31, the 25-plant per parcel law, categorizing cannabis patients as public nuisances, comparable to stream pollution, garbage and rotting carcasses — true public nuisances. Under 9.31, patients are afforded fewer rights than under criminal statutes. These are the issues. KZYX is not adequately reporting on any of them and Sakowicz is not capable of it.
Instead, KZYX upped the ante by allowing Sakowicz more time to air his undisguised bias in a half-hour interview with Sup John McCowen on Truth About Money.
His Money show started out with the following outburst:
"Since my report on Nov 30, I've been the subject of a smear campaign with hate mail…I wonder when will John Sakowicz put a key in his car and it blows up….I had my son put my key in the car for me… Some people don't want any regulation.” He continued, “They've opened up a John Sakowicz must die campaign…they're out there, people doing a letter-writing campaign, people who can't agree on anything except that they all agree they hate certain people doing anything that would smack of regulation."
What kind of a poseur would joke about potential violence to his own son?
Who are these “people who don't want any regulation” he is speaking of?
Is he suggesting that non-violent medical marijuana patients would carbomb your reporter, due to our disagreements with the ordinance he's reporting on?
Why is he allowed to say these inflammatory things about the opposition without our response and/or a station disclaimer?
KZYX should consider itself in potential jeopardy from Sakowicz' intemperance and should not allow his false statements, insinuating that MMMAB, the group that was named, would use violence to settle differences, by pretending we are opposed to regulation, which we are not, and suggesting we might go to illegal extremes to stop it, which we would never do.
We generally use reason based on patients' rights and voters' will to settle differences and would never resort to violence for any reason. Our last resort is the court.
This scenario has no resemblance to reality but it appears to have a script.
Sakowicz' statements are designed to shed doubt on MMMAB's integrity and intentions, as critics of the ordinance.
In the interests of accuracy, balance and credibility,
1) Sakowicz must interview the critics of 9.31 to correct his one-sided report;
2) stop insinuating the opposition's bad faith — running a “hate campaign” against him — without facts;
3) stop suggesting that medical marijuana policy advisors would engage in violence of any sort — without facts;
4) stop biased reporting on medical marijuana news.
Many of us believe that you, as General Manager, have a responsibility to be concerned.
John Sakowicz appears to be using KZYX to ridicule and silence the critics of 9.31
through one-sided reports and false accusations and the station is helping him do that
in violation of federal broadcast standards, i.e., airing both sides of the story.
Do you intend to communicate with MMMAB about righting this wrong? Or do we have to look elsewhere?
We consider the situation serious — false accusations of violence; no coverage of the 9.31 opposition; a pattern of biased medical marijuana news and interviews. This amounts to discrimination.
Unlike how it's being reported, MMMAB supports principled medical cannabis regulation but it must fulfill the law's purpose — “to enhance access” — not restrict, reduce, block, threaten, penalize.
9.31 does the opposite — it restricts access, reduces patients' rights and puts untrained law enforcement, rather than public health or planning and building, at the center of implementing regulatory procedures and penalties against patients.
This sets standards that set us backward toward a type of punitive neo-prohibition called administrative law. It is not progress. It is regress.
The alternative is to base medical cannabis regulation on land use impacts, such as water, fire, traffic and other neighborhood and environmental concerns, establishing a legal foundation that expands access as the law intends.
KZYX's public news mission is on the line here.
Twice in one week, the oppositional point of view was omitted from the 9.31 discussion on KZYX, forming a pattern of bias and a flaunting of broadcast standards of fairness. Is this acceptable to you?
Mr. Sakowicz is not acceptable to the cannabis patient community as an objective news reporter, nor is his use of KZYX as a bully pulpit against those who dare to disagree with official wisdom.
Mendocino Medical Marijuana Advisory Board