(August 3, 2012)
WGAW Members Anne Kenney and Matt Nix bring the writer's perspective to the Capitol
As seasoned television writers, Anne Kenney (Switched at Birth) and Matt Nix (Burn Notice) are no strangers to pitching. So the irony (and humor) wasn’t lost on either of them when their recent meetings with Washington, D.C. legislators and regulators felt oddly familiar. “It’s the same arrangement of couches and waiting in the ante room as when you pitch, the same chit-chat before you get down to business,” jokes Nix. “In fact, we have a certain advantage in lobbying because we’re used to tap dancing a little bit when we get in the room.”
That advantage served Nix and Kenney well. As part of the WGAW's group traveling to Washington with Research and Public Policy Director Ellen Stutzman and Political Director John Vezina, they represented the writer's perspective in two days of non-stop meetings with elected officials and their staffs, FCC regulators and Department of Justice representatives. “We may not be a big voice, they were telling us AT&T has 120 lobbyists,” says Kenney. “But it’s important to be there and make sure our voice is heard too. It was great to be able to talk to these people and not just put our signatures on an email and send it.” Adds Nix, “I was struck by the degree to which it seemed to matter that they were hearing from writers. In so many words, several said that they usually only hear from the representatives of the carriers and the networks.”
Over the past few years, the Guild has stepped up lobbying efforts in Washington to expand outreach among elected officials and policymakers. “The WGAW has been active on a number of issues, from net neutrality to the Comcast-NBCU merger to the AT&T-T-Mobile merger. We have established the Guild’s voice in D.C. and now have credibility on media issues,” says Stutzman. “We have been consistent on our position that legislative and regulatory action must enhance competition, and they take us seriously. Whereas legislators used to only hear from network and studio leaders, they now open their doors to writers and the WGAW.”
(L-R) Rep. John Conyers (D-MI.), ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, meets with Kenney and Nix
The focus of the recent trip was the Verizon-Spectrum deal and data capping, both of which limit competition and threaten an open Internet. Having writers explain these issues in human terms, how business is done in Hollywood and how it can potentially impact the livelihoods of people who work in television, adds a dimension to the conversation and is often what leads to what Vezina calls the “aha moment” for legislators and policymakers.
“On issues like data bandwidth caps, legislators and regulators are really interested in why writers care about net neutrality,” says Vezina. “The conversations have substance and, in some cases, prompt action, like a member of Congress immediately offering to write a letter to the FCC or DOJ making sure they do due diligence on our issues. On a macro level, elected officials tend not to see Hollywood and the ‘content community’ as being monolithic. When you express to them that without writers there is no content, they get it.”
When Kenney and Nix were invited to Washington, neither had done much by the way of political work for the Guild and were not, by their own admission, up on the issues. But as they navigated the corridors of power, attending some 15 meetings over two days, their understanding grew as did their recognition of how important their presence was, sometimes in ways as elementary as explaining what a licensing agreement is and how policy decisions play out 3,000 miles away in Hollywood. “We reminded them that every television show directly or indirectly employs thousands of people,” says Nix.
By the time they headed home, Nix and Kenney were well-versed in ‘pitching’ Washington legislators. As Kenney points out, she had boiled down her message to policymakers: “Watch those corporate guys. Don’t give away the store.”
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