WI: Loss of public access TV not worth deregulation

Posted on April 5, 2007 - 9:10am.

from: Capital Times

Robin Stearns: Loss of public access TV not worth deregulation

By Robin Stearns. April 5, 2007

I attended the March 27 hearing on "deregulating" cable TV in Wisconsin. I had been asked to speak in defense of public access television. This so-called video competition bill will require public, educational and government stations to air 12 hours of programming per day, 80 percent of which must be locally produced and not rerun. This alone will destroy community access TV in Wisconsin.

This winter, I had the great fortune to work with Fitchburg Community Access TV to produce four episodes of a television show that focused on the issues surrounding ATC's proposed power lines and the need for an independent study.

This fabulous experience allowed our group to provide information about some very important and complex issues. Many people felt we provided insight that was unavailable through other means.

I added up all the man hours that our band of volunteers and the very talented staff at FacTV put into those productions, and I figure it took close to 200 man-hours to plan, write, schedule, partake in, and produce those four shows that totaled less than five hours of programming. Clearly the programming requirements alone will kill public access television.

Losing public access television will silence the voice of the people. Community access television is one of the last vestiges of truly free speech in this country. With more of our media being controlled by huge corporations, and more of our government officials being controlled by special interests, public, educational and government television is one of the few places where real people, without piles of money or Hollywood good looks, can give voice to non-commercial viewpoints.

The silencing of the public is certainly reason enough to reject this bill, but there is an even more important reason to protect public access television. These channels enable the public to watch, from the comfort and safety of their own homes, their local politicians in action. Most cable access stations provide the only coverage and documentation of the proceedings of local government meetings. Taking away public, educational and government television takes away one of our most important government watchdogs, and the public's ability to know.

This is a true assault on our democratic process.

But why would organizations like AT&T, the primary lobbyist and beneficiary of this crazy bill, want to remove our access to our own government?

Anyone who survived the standing-room-only crowd for the March 27 circus at the Capitol understands: It is much easier for politicians to push through bad legislation and trade away consumer rights if they can rid themselves of observant voters.

Make no mistake: This is bad legislation. Reps. Phil Montgomery and Mike Huebsch, the bill's sponsors, would have the public believe that this bill will improve customer service. But this disingenuous statement is self-contradicted by the loss of public access television. I was raised to believe that competition and democracy go hand-in-hand. This should not be an either/or question. Those who are making it so are doing us a grave disservice.

Public access television is our voice and our eyes. We should proceed with extreme caution before we lose this precious gift.

Robin Stearns is the executive director of Little City Kids. She lives in Waunakee.

Published: April 4, 2007

( categories: State Franchises | WISCONSIN )