Community Media: Selected Clippings – 02/09/08

Power to Lynchburg’s public access station to be shut off soon
by Alicia Petska
News & Advance (VA)

[comments allowed]

Wally Roach has often wondered how his 13-plus years as a public access host might come to an end.  Finding himself in hand-to-hand combat with the ninja assassin mimes of Lynchburg City Council was not one of his first guesses.

“What’s going on here? Leave me alone! Oww!” screamed an apparently helpless Roach after being dragged off-camera during a live taping of his show Wednesday.  “Mayor, put me down! Aaah!”  The television – which showed none of the fracas as the supposed ninjas took care to avert the camera – suddenly went black.  “Now we see the violence inherent in the system!” Roach yelled over the sounds of a struggle. “You’re repressing me! Stop it!”

This scene, partially borrowed from a moment in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” when King Arthur beats an uppity peasant, might best encapsulate the feelings of Lynchburg’s 40-some public-access hosts, all of whom are scheduled for cancellation next week.  “This is the end and City Council did it,” explained a calmer and remarkably unscuffed Roach the next day. “If they have to come in and physically stop us, they’d do it.”

He paused a moment.  “I don’t suppose they’d really do it themselves,” he said. “They’d call the police. But I didn’t have any police uniforms, so it would have ruined the whole bit.”

For months now, the city has been preparing to cut the power to Lynchburg’s public access channel, a process expected to be complete next week.  The community’s cable franchise is up for renewal and Comcast, which took over service here in 2006, plans to drop all support for public access programming. City Council also declined to step in and continue the station.

“It’s almost like our voices are being hushed,” reflected Keith Lee, director of the Dance Theatre of Lynchburg and producer of the show “Dance Journey.”  “It’s like expression is being hushed in the community,” he said. “And I don’t think that’s very fair.”

Currently, Comcast pays to operate a community studio and air programs ranging from government meetings to publicly produced talk shows and religious sermons. New state laws aimed at deregulating the industry no longer require that service.  In the cable company’s stead, the city plans to step in, take over the studio and start producing its own all-government channel. Although Comcast no longer has to bankroll public programming, it does have to keep broadcasting it when it’s produced.

Under the terms of the new franchise agreement, which will be brought to a hearing before City Council on Tuesday, both the city government and the school system will have their own channel.  Lynchburg schools have had their own TV program for years. The government station, which will air on Channel 15, is scheduled to start up next Friday. A total of $266,000 has been set aside for its first year of operation.

A proposal to add to that budget funding for a third, community-based channel was unanimously rejected by City Council. Officials also decided against exercising their right to require that Comcast add a public access surcharge to its bill that would then be used to fund a public station.

In making those decisions, council members cited the burden to taxpayers and cable customers, respectively.  “I don’t think (supporting public access) is a necessary function of government, and I don’t think it’s a wise use of taxpayers’ money,” Ward I Councilman Mike Gillette said. “I’d rather put that money into our schools and police and parks.”

City Council will hear from the public on the cable changes at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday in City Hall. Staff members hope to see the new franchise agreement approved immediately following that hearing.  The public-access producers, however, plan to make one final plea for their work and hope a few viewers will turn out to show their support.  Among their points of contention is a franchise feepaid every year by Comcast that rakes in more than $500,000 for the city.

Traditionally, that money has gone into the government’s general fund, but public-access supporters are now questioning why some of it can’t be funneled into their station. According to city estimates, it would take around $86,000 annually to keep public access going.  “City officials, if they really wanted to, could find a way to keep public access on at a minimal cost,” said Andre Whitehead, who got his start in TV through Lynchburg public access more than 20 years ago.   —>!news!archive

ECTV picked to take over Channel 61
by Stacy Brown
Times-Tribune (PA)


Electric City Television was selected Friday by a search committee appointed by Mayor Chris Doherty to operate Channels 61 and 62, ending a decade-long run by the civic group Scranton Today.  ECTV will receive a five-year contract to operate the channels and a yet-to-be determined amount of money from the city’s cable franchise agreement with Comcast. The deal with Comcast expires next year, and negotiations are expected to begin later this year.  “We are thrilled,” said Chris Balton, a former Scranton Today cameraman and one of ECTV’s founders.   —>

County Allowed To Sell Cable TV Ad Spots – If It’s Careful
by Richard Mullins
Tampa Tribune (FL)

The Tampa Bay area could soon have another TV station competing for local advertising money, run by the government.  In a drive to raise revenue, Hillsborough County commissioners are pondering ways to sell commercials during the cable TV broadcasts of their meetings, similar to the sponsorships that companies like General Motors Corp. and State Farm Insurance buy on public broadcasting TV shows.  The move would mark a first for Hillsborough County, which broadcasts its meetings, seminars and other shows on an exclusive cable TV channel on Bright House Networks (Channel 622) and Verizon’s FiOS cable systems (Channel 22).

Part of the issue is the cost to run the station itself. HTV, as the station is called, has 21 employees and a budget this year of $1.9 million, including a one-time $500,000 project to upgrade to digital TV equipment. The bulk of that money goes to televise meetings of the commission, the Tampa Port Authority, Planning Commission, land use meetings and other public information events.

Where the TV advertisement idea goes could take an important turn today, when commissioners receive a legal study that says the county can go ahead and sell TV spots as long as they aren’t “commercials” that show product prices or comparisons with competing brands.

The idea originated last fall, when commissioners taking a retreat pondered new ways to raise revenue. Commissioners asked county lawyers to look into the legality of selling TV commercial spots. Today, commissioners will receive a legal opinion that says the county can go ahead with the plan — if done carefully.  That’s because the government only has a cable TV channel through a carefully negotiated deal that allows Bright House and Verizon to sell cable TV in the area, and gives the county its own TV channel in exchange.

That agreement specifically says that “under no circumstances will commercial advertising be permitted” on the county’s channel. But, there is a loophole. The county may accept monetary donations for recognizing “donors and sponsors.” County lawyers said any on-air sponsorship should mirror those seen on the nonprofit WUSF, Channel 16 and WEDU, Channel 3, and offered an example script: “This program is made possible in part by Company name, serving the Tampa Bay area since year.”

Selling that kind of TV spot could prove difficult.  First, there are some conflict of interest questions, HTV station manager Tammy Peralta said.  The county could not run sponsorships bought by companies doing business with the county, or that have matters before any county agency, or links to county commissioners. Political ads could also be troublesome.  “All those questions have definitely crossed our minds,” Peralta said.  Also, HTV does not conduct regular ratings surveys, so it can’t tell potential advertisers how many people the TV spots would reach. —>

Participatory Media Studies and PEG Access TV
by Colin Rhinesmith
Community Media in Transition

[comments allowed]

I’m starting to believe – but I hope it’s not true – that the lack of widespread research in Public, Educational and Government (PEG) Access Television studies may have profound consequences for media scholars seeking to understand participatory culture.

Not only is there a huge misunderstanding about the differences between public access television and video sharing sites such as YouTube, but as a student of media studies I find the shortage of community television research particularly troubling when reading articles such as David Croteau’s 2006 article, entitled “The Growth of Self-Produced Media Content and the Challenge to Media Studies,” as an example.

In the article, Croteau writes that self-produced media is the result of (1) an increase in “affordable digital equipment” and the young people growing up with them, (2) an increase in “broadband presence” to “facilitate the distribution of data-heavy files,” and (3) a rise in “specialty websites and services” to aid in the “distribution and promotion of self-produced media content” (341).

While the author recognizes that self-produced media has “long existed in many forms,” such as with community media and other independent forms, Croteau states that what makes participatory media different from previous media is the way in which the Internet enables locally produced content to be distributed to “far-flung” audiences (341).

As a result, the author writes that both the fragmentation and proliferation of self-produced media content have created challenges for media scholars previously focused on areas such as the concentration of media ownership and its impact on large consumer audiences.

Therefore, Croteau proposes that media scholars need to develop new methodologies for assessing “content trends across these new production platforms” in order to better study the “volume” of self-produced media content (343). The purpose, he writes “could provide a unique glipmse into an increasingly diverse society and an interconnected world. It could suggest new models for traditional media to adopt to facilitate civic engagement and participation. It could reveal a refreshingly broad range of self-expression and creativity, indepedent of market imperatives.” (344)

I chose to highlight David Croteau’s article not because I disagree with the statements mentioned above. I respect his work as a media scholar in general and specifically in his works Media/Society: Industries, Images, and Audiences and Business of Corporate Media. However, the article represents the disconnect between studies in community media and media studies more broadly – i.e., media scholars often seem to gloss over community media research contributions to the field of media studies.   —>

Training for the Masses: Public Television ABCs
by Paul W. Marino (MA)

[comments allowed]

“Grandmother! What Big Characters You Have!”  All the better to let you know what you’re watching, my dear!

Characters, of course, can be lots of things. They can be parts in a play, or people with very singular or eccentric personalities, like the big clod who writes this column.  But in television, characters are something else altogether (which is also something that’s been said about the big clod who writes this column, but that’s another story).  To us, characters are letters (and numbers, etc.), which we put on the screen by means of a device called the “character generator,” also known as the CG…

…If you think you’d like to learn how to operate a character generator — or just become a character yourself — come on down and visit us in Building 6 in Western Gateway Heritage State Park or give us a call at 663-9006.  We’ll show you just how user-friendly our CG — and the rest of our equipment — is. We’ll try to talk you into signing up for a workshop series. And we really hope you will sign up, because most of our programming (and in many ways, the best) is made by ordinary, local people like you. The moral? Don’t just watch TV; make it yourself, here at NBCTC.

Jakrapob’s panels to check media content
by Anucha Charoenpo & Manop Thip-Osod
Bangkok Post

Prime Minister’s Office Minister Jakrapob Penkair will establish government committees over the next two months to check the impartiality of news coverage by the state media. Mr Jakrapob said members of the committees must be knowledgeable in media affairs, free of political and business interests, and be visionary.

He did not say how many committees there would be although each would study one state media outlet category. For example, panels would be responsible for studying outlets grouped as digital broadcast media or community radio.  ”And I will supervise them myself,” Mr Jakrapob said of the committees.  The minister insisted he was not out to control the media.   —>

compiled by Rob McCausland
Alliance for Community Media

Explore posts in the same categories: cable franchising, community radio, educational access, freedom of the press, government access, media research, media use, municipal programming, participatory culture, PEG access TV, press censorship, press freedom, public access television, video franchising

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