Community Media Under Assault
Release Date: 7/18/2012
As the fourth of July approaches, it’s important to remember the role of media in functioning democracies. World population growth, the spread of technology and changing media business models don’t mean that there’s more information, just that average citizens are presented with more news than ever. Since the late 1960s, non-commercial community media and public/educational/government access channels (PEG access) have helped cable TV realize some of its social potential, informing citizens and giving them the right to participate in the creation of media. Realizing this potential, during the 1970s, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) mandated that cable providers with 3,500 costumers or more set aside up to 4 public access channels, as well as facilities and production equipment for use by the public. Cable providers would use their subscription fees and other fees to pay for them. Contracts are signed between municipalities and the cable companies themselves. In most cases, public access channels are run by community organizations.
Naturally, cable companies began challenging the regulation in court. Decades before the Citizens United ruling, 1979, in FCC v. Midwest Video Corp, that cable companies are private persons under the First Amendment, declaring the FCC’s mandate an infringement on their free speech rights. Since then, hundreds of PEG channels have closed because of deregulations allowing cash-strapped towns to opt out of these agreements and keep the revenue for their general fund. Competition from telephone companies, who push for one-size-fits-all funding regulation at the state level, has also decreased funding for PEG access, according to a study released by the Buske Group. Just as many are in danger of closing, bringing their affiliated community media centers down with them.
One such community media center is Quote…Unquote, Inc., an Albuquerque, New Mexico organization locked in a battle against the city over the Request for Proposal (RFP) process. They claim an ad-hoc committee of municipal officials voted to award a contract to uPublic, a higher bidder with less experience and a blatantly commercial plan for running the stations. From a May 16, 2012 press release:
Among QUQ’s numerous objections to the City’s mishandling of the RFP process are the following:
- that our competitor’s proposal indicates there will be no live programming
- that their organization will be the executive producer of all shows
- that they indicated on their website they will censor “objectionable content”
- that marketing and slick production values will be a greater priority than diversity and community participation.
A few weeks ago, a judge denied their request for a restraining order to keep the city from awarding the contract to uPublic. QUQ is currently figuring out how to continue to operate online, while continuing to seek legal recourse against the city. This is a push for media justice, and when community media centers go under, it primarily affects working people and communities of color. You can help Quote, Unquote…Inc., by donating to their legal fund on their website.