What does it mean when two TV stations say they want to help concerned citizens spread their environmental message through ads, but then they refuse to air the ads? It means the natural gas industry has all of the power and influence, anti-fracking organizer Loretta Weir says.
“The rules are made to be broken. You always have to look at who made the rules.”
- Giulio Colasante (late father of Loretta Weir)
By Jonathan Barnes
Activist Loretta Weir, a resident of Pittsburgh’s Lincoln Place neighborhood who runs the anti-fracking group Marcellus Protest, wants to know what’s up with the local television media. They’re hot and they’re cold; they want you, and then they don’t.
But after spending months playing musical chairs with television executives, Weir has found media outside of the boob tube to help her spread the message. Still she wonders, why all of the runaround?
In September 2011, Marcellus Protest was contacted by a representative of WPGH53, who spoke with Weir and told her the drilling industry is having all of the say, and her group should get their say. The TV station representative, Brian Unger, said the station would sell advertising time to Marcellus Protest if the activist group ran a campaign that would cost $15,000.
Weir met with Unger in September, telling him she wanted to run the campaign very soon. “Are you sure you’ll run these spots within two weeks? I’ve got $5,000,” she told Unger, who assured her the company would run the ads the two had spoken about. Weir and her comrades had created several spots to air on WPGH. But representatives of the TV station wouldn’t meet with her again, stringing her out from September through Thanksgiving.
In November, Weir said, Jim Lapiana of WPGH told her in a phone conversation, regarding her proposed advertising with his TV station: “If this ad would in any way reflect negatively on the extraction of gas, I won’t air it.”
“This is only fair journalism,” Weir said.
“I don’t care, I can decide who I do business with,” Lapiana said, according to Weir. “And we don’t want your business.”
After the conversation, Weir halted her campaign and stopped collecting money for the TV ads, since she didn’t know that she would have a chance to advertise on TV. Around that time she attended the Three Rivers Community Foundation conference, and gave a talk about educating the public through the media. Following the talk, an elderly man came up to Weir and spoke with her about her thwarted TV ad campaign.
“Go to CTBN (Christian Television Network),” he said.
“I called Christian Television Network and told them we are really concerned about environmental damage. Tom McGough gives me a contract and gives me 230 spots, but he says I’d have to ‘Whisper the message,’” Weir explained. “I said, ‘I’m willing to whisper the message about environmental stewardship.’”
She sent McGough a sample introduction video. In January, he told her they would produce the ad, that her group could buy 230 spots and it would be aired nationwide. But then he went to his board, and later emailed her saying the company would not run the ads, because her group is partnered with the Thomas Merton Center.
A Catholic, Weir believes that we are all one. “We are all human beings. This idea that we can subjugate one another is wrong,” Weir said.
After being blocked by one TV network after another, Weir is rethinking how she’ll advertise the message. “I’m looking into billboard advertising—I’ll see if I get blocked there,” she said, not sounding completely hopeful. Recently, KDKA Radio agreed to air a spot for her group, starting in late March.
“I was never an activist all my life,” Weir said. “But this issue has really opened my eyes about what goes on with our political system… Pittsburgh was the first city to ban fracking. Now, we’re just starting to track the health impacts. What’s it mean? It means your government is behind this.”
Jonathan Barnes is a freelance journalist who has published thousands of stories in local, national and international publications. Email him at email@example.com.