Keep the 'Public' in Public Access sign now

KEEP THE PUBLIC IN PUBLIC ACCESS

Public Access is a valuable community resource. It is an electronic public space which protects the first amendment rights of citizens to free political and artistic or cultural expression. Through the presentation of local community events and governmental meetings it also gives members of the local community a chance to see themselves though their own eyes and not through the eyes of commercial, governmental or educational interests . Douglas Kellner, a leading theorist of the media and himself a public access producer notes вpublic access television is one of the few real forms of alternative television and it provides the best prospects for using the broadcast media to serve the interests of popular democracyв Public access allows citizens of all stripes to use the media to speak in their own voice and not that of commercial media.

For almost 25 years, educable communications corporation has operated as a non-profit corporation providing access services to towns and villages in the western suburbs of Monroe County .Educable staff started up and established permanent access operations in the area often in the face of hostile local governments. Yet throughout its operation educable has been funded at a starvation level, and has not been sufficiently funded to carry out all the mandates of access. Now the towns of Gates, Ogden, Chili, and Greece want to disenfranchise the community by moving public access operations to the Greece Central School District, and out of the hands of independent producers and citizens.

We think this proposal is deeply flawed and poorly thought out.

The mandates of public access are best carried out through the model of the independent non-profit corporation. Where the cable company, government or educational institutions are involved the threat of interference and loss of funding is always present. This caution has unfortunately proved true in the local area. In the past the school district for example restricted our paid taping of the residents' forum portion of the school board meetings (which it moved to a separate night) when they did not like what was said, and governmental leaders have complained to educable about shows that criticize them or have tried to screen calls on talk shows. This kind of interference is incompatible with public access and freedom of speech. If access staff or management is contracted by the Greece school district they will be unable to criticize access operation for fear of losing their jobs. This will have a chilling effect on programmer and producer freedom.

What the towns and the school district propose is a form of administered free speech given to you and granted to you by authorities and overseen by authorities. Administered free speech is not free at all. No matter what guarantees are provided, those who want to contribute to access will always know they are being monitored.

Second we think that the proposal to move the access channel to the school district will subordinate access to other aims of the Greece Central school district. The operation will not be primarily dedicated to access but to pedagogical aims. However desirable these may be, access needs to be kept independent. The districtsв proposal as we know it reduces access to an afterthought.

We are also concerned that the dealings of Greece and other towns with Time Warner have occurred behind closed doors and without sufficient public scrutiny or involvement. Last year Greece signed a 15 year agreement with Time Warner, a length unheard of in the past, out of public view. We question the wisdom and the legitimacy of this agreement and wonder what was given in return for locking in to an excessively long contract. Franchise agreements are a public matter not a private deal and typically concerned citizens and even access management should be involved in the process.
The recent gifts given by Time Warner to the towns are troubling.

Finally we donвt think the town or the school district has the interest, knowledge wherewithal or expertise to run an effective access operation in the best interest of he public or the towns. They have made this move without considering the input of the public or even many of the towns now connected in the cable 12/15 West area of Western Monroe County.

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Morgan BeckerBy:
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Petition target:
Greece School Board, Greece/Gates/Chili/OgdenTown Boards

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