AP Article Highlights Importance of Public Access

AP Article Highlights Importance of Public Access

  • Posted on: 12 April 2007
  • By: Eli

An AP article published widely in California papers earlier this week underlined both the importance of public access TV for immigrant communities and also the uniquely democratic space that public access brings to television.

In her article "On the TV's margins, public access gives immigrants a voice", Juliana Barbassa of the Associated Press writes, "Anyone with something to say, in almost any language, can find a home on public access television..." She also calls public access channels "The most democratic space on the tube", a truism that frequently goes unrecognized. What we generally term "public" television is public only in the sense of funding, not participation.

The gist of the article is that communities, especially those comprised of immigrants, are often marginalized by standard commercial offerings and have turned to public access both as producers and viewers to connect with people sharing their language or cultural background.

As an example of the diversity of programming and languages found on public access channels, the article mentions CCTV, describing how "In Cambridge, Mass., Haitians can get their news in Creole, Spanish- and Portuguese-speakers can hear mass, Arabs can get family entertainment, and Eritreans can hear community forums, all in one day's public access programming."

With the current assault by big telcos such as Verizon and AT&T on municipal franchising rights, and the corresponding threat to public, educational, and government (PEG) access TV, stories about the valuable and unique service PEG channels provide are increasingly important.

The two things I would take issue with in an otherwise insightful article are- 1) the use of one divisive and contentious producer as the only in-depth look at an actual program and 2) the lack of discussion of municipal franchising and the difference between channels operated by a city (or designated non-profit), and those operated by the cable company. The article at one point implies that Comcast operates public access tv nation-wide, which is misleading. Especially in large markets, and often in smaller ones as well, the standard agreement is that the cable company provides funds, based partly on local revenue, to the city in exchange for use of public rights of way. The city then disburses these funds, frequently to a non-profit organization established to provide public access services.

Public access TV stations run by municipalities, or non-profits working on their behalf, are often vibrant community centers focused as much on giving people the tools (training and equipment) to make their own media as on playing programming on the channels. The San Jose public access/local origination channel(s) are operated by Comcast and sound fairly close to a simple "pay for play" arrangement.

For more info on the current battle for local control over video franchising, check out the following links.

alliancecm.org The Alliance for Community Media site
saveaccess.org advocacy site for PEG access
cctvcambridge.org article by Susan Fleischmann on a bill pending in the MA legislature
peoplefirst blog by John Donovan on MA (and national) franchising battle