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At its Aug. 15 meeting, the City Council is likely to vote to consolidate all public access television services – that is, Cable Channel 6 – within the City. In a July 6 memo to the members of the City’s Human Services Committee, City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz and Deputy City Manager Erika Storlie described the financial difficulties faced by Evanston Community Television (ECTV), which have led to a reduction of hours and a “shift … of focus from developing and promoting public access television to production services.”
To shift the focus back to public access television education and programming, Mr. Bobkiewicz and Ms. Storlie wrote, “We feel it is prudent at this time to transfer the responsibility for public access services to the City of Evanston.”
Mr. Bobkiewicz and Ms. Storlie said they believe the transition can be effected “with no financial consideration, leveraging partnership with community and school organizations to provide greater access and opportunity for residents to be involved.”
The history of the decline of ECTV provided in the memo omits the fact that ECTV lost a significant amount of its revenue when the City decided a few years ago to discontinue sharing with ECTV the franchise fee it collects to fund PEG – public access, education, and government – cable television.
The City apparently has the right to do this under the 1984 cable franchise act.
The Center for Media and Democracy opines, “Municipalities must take initiative and petition the cable operator to provide the funding for PEG access as laid out by law, but municipalities may also choose to take no action and will instead keep the franchise fees in a general fund. A municipality may also choose to allow Governmental access but not Public access or may replace it with Governmental access or may take away Public access altogether, depending on the disposition of the local government or its voters.”
We think the City does a fine job of broadcasting and re-broadcasting public meetings, both its own and those of School District 65. That residents can view these meetings live and in replay is a gift for those who wish to know what goes on at meetings but cannot always attend them.
We do not, however, think that the City’s subsuming the public access part is a wonderful idea. In fact, it is more than a little troubling to hear that the City would expand its reach into the operations of public access television. It often sounds good to have things under one roof, but important considerations like autonomy and originality can be lost in consolidation.
Public access television is different, and while it has been anything but robust in the past few years, we understand that any organization’s lack of revenue points to its demise.
Our hope is that the City Council will not approve this transfer at the Aug. 15 meeting but instead ask City staff to look further for alternatives.
If there are partnership opportunities, perhaps the City could mine rather than leverage them and help with the transition to another organization.
We understand the City hopes to revitalize public access television and are glad of it. Still, we hope that Cable Channel 6 can remain independent of the City.