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Sean Daly, Michelle Stark and Sharon Kennedy Wynne

Did a racial slur against Obama prompt Tampa's Fox station to drop audio of viewer calls?

7

October

Yourturn1 When WTVT-Ch. 13 anchor Kathy Fountain first started her midday talk show Your Turn in 1997, a central feature of the program featured telephone calls from viewers.

The dynamic was captured in the show’s title. Fountain, who had once hosted a Donahue-style talk show with a live audience when WTVT was a CBS affiliate, found a new way to bring fans’ responses into the mix, allowing viewers to phone in live with opinions and even ask guests direct questions.

But alert viewers will notice something new about the half-hour talk segment, which airs midway through WTVT’s noon newscast  weekdays:

There are no viewer calls heard anymore.

Since mid September, Your Turn has only featured viewer feedback through e-mails and transcriptions of statements from callers read by Fountain on air. Gone is the anchor’s ability to ask the viewer questions or explore their perspectives on air.

WTVT news director Mike McClain would not comment on the record about rumors that the audio calls were removed from the show after a viewer used a racial epithet to refer to presidential candidate Barack Obama.

“We wanted to still maintain viewer interaction in the show, but at the same time, we wanted to make sure no inappropriate comments go on the air,”  McClain said. “We feel the ability to have viewers give their comments via e-mail is an important part of the show, and we’re happy to continue to do that.”

Kathyfountain_2Fountain also declined to speak on the record about the issue. But she did publish a post on her blog back on Sept. 5, headlined “outrageous misuse of air time,” which may have spoken to the issue.

An excerpt from Fountain's blog: “News flash: To the guy who called in today and called Sen. Obama a racial slur -- the worst racial slur -- then I say you have squandered this opportunity, you have taken the political discourse into the gutter; and you have wasted my time.

“I trust that people who call in will have something relevant to say. I respect all political views expressed on the show, and have no time for such a cowardly act (as pretending) you're going to say one thing, then spew out something so shocking it left my guests reeling, and left me with the sick realization that racism is still haunting our world.”

What may be most amazing about Your Turn is that the forum lasted long as it did, allowing viewers to call in to a TV show beamed to the entire Tampa Bay area with no audio delay. Viewers were pretty much on their honor to avoid any language that might upset others in the audience or incur a fine from the FCC.

No more. Now Fountain has become the voice of her viewers in a new way, struggling to live up to her segment’s title, even as a coarsening society makes such work tougher than ever. (FULL DISCLOSURE: I have often appeared on the show as a guest to speak on media, politics and race issues, though, coincidentally, I haven't been on since viewer calls were dropped.)

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[Last modified: Wednesday, July 21, 2010 2:52pm]

    

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