Attention Free Press activists: There will be NO Fourth Tuesday Free Movie at the Drexel this month.
Help restore free speech forum in Columbus: Please see below for an action you can take to support the city of Columbus to bring back public access TV:
Action Alert:
City Council will be finalizing its budget over the coming days … please send a note evidencing your support for public access to the following member at your earliest opportunity. Also, please ask others in your circle to do the same. Troy Miller chairs the Technology Committee, which is where we presented our testimony and where we sent our follow up letter/written request:
ajginther@columbus.gov
mmmills@columbus.gov
atmiller@columbus.gov
eypaley@columbus.gov
prtyson@columbus.gov
hfcraig@columbus.gov
zmklein@columbus.gov
Dear Neighborhood Leaders:
I am writing on behalf of the Ad Hoc Committee for Public Access Television, and requesting you to contact Columbus City Council and voice your support for city funding for the return of public access television to the residents of Columbus. Our proposal seems to have been received favorably by council member Troy Miller and Technology Director Gary Cavin, and additional public support could tip the scales toward funding as council makes final budget decisions over the next several days.
The Ad Hoc Committee for Public Access Television (CPAT) is comprised of Central Ohioans who believe that the public interest would greatly benefit from a more diverse local media. In December budget hearing testimony and follow up correspondence, we have asked Columbus City Council to allocate $55,000 in the City’s 2013 budget as seed funding for returning public access television to Central Ohio. The community has been without this important communications medium since 2003, when funding for it was ended because of budget constraints. With the City’s budget vastly improved such that millions of dollars are being placed in the Rainy Day Fund, the CPAT believe that now is the time to restore funding for public-access TV. We ask for your support in this effort.
The City wisely kept the infrastructure in place for a return of public access TV. Local channel 21, which was previously the public access channel, is a community bulletin board that could easily again accommodate public access programming. Moreover, advances in technology have drastically lowered the costs of operating a public access station. As a result, running the station on the relatively modest budget that has been proposed is entirely feasible.
Many of us remember the controversial content of dubious-to-questionable merit that was at issue on public access a decade ago. Our committee has proposed a membership-based organization of content producers who agree to adopt community standards similar to the public broadcast standards, and within that umbrella of decency fully supporting the expression of diverse views consistent with our first amendment rights.
We believe that public access TV offers many benefits to Columbus. Among the major ones are the following.
Increasing civic participation
In his book Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, Robert Putman of Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government describes Americans’ decreasing community involvement. He cites lower rates of voting, attendance at public meetings, membership in civic associations, service on committees, and work with political parties. He believes that these trends weaken the means by which Americans have traditionally worked together for the good of the entire community.
Our understanding is that at least some Area Commissions are trying to increase the public’s civic participation by compiling lists of organizations in their areas and helping the organizations connect with one another and the local government. Public access TV would facilitate the achievement of those goals.
Public access TV enables nonprofit groups to inform a mass audience in Central Ohio about who they are, which issues they are working on, and what opportunities for volunteer work they offer. This information motivates citizens to connect with one another and with their local government to work on important issues. It is a means of reversing the lack of civic engagement that scholars such as Putman bemoan as undermining democracy.
Improving Central Ohio’s economy
Employment has become harder to find in recent years, with millions of manufacturing and service jobs having been outsourced to other countries. In Franklin County, thousands of manufacturing jobs were lost in the last decade. Even some white-collar jobs have been outsourced or are in danger of being eliminated.
In response to these problems, many scholars are advocating that the U.S. promote employment in the creative sectors of the economy. Public access TV would give local music and video artists widespread exposure of their ideas and works. At present, they need to go to other cities for such exposure on television. The exposure spurs economic activity by increasing demand for their artistic creations and opening up more venues where they can display their talents.
In the long term, the increased knowledge and skills the public would develop by learning about and using the public access station’s technology would likely translate into many new jobs in the private sector.
Enhancing cultural enrichment
In 2006 researchers at the Urban Institute found that Columbus has the most festivals per capita in the nation. This shows that Columbus residents love exposure to new ideas, music, products, cultures, and ways of enriching their lives.
Public access TV would enable citizens to display their creativity and cultural diversity to a mass television audience in ways similar to how they do it at the community’s many festivals. Television viewers who enjoy the festivals would surely enjoy these offerings too. Similar to the festivals, the programs would be a source of education, growth, relaxation, and rejuvenation.
And for viewers having disabilities that prevent them from attending the festivals, they would be able to obtain some of the same types of information and entertainment on TV.
Counteracting local media consolidation
In recent decades the national trend has been for large media companies to acquire local news outlets. It has gotten to the point where a few gigantic conglomerates dominate the news industry and determine the views that Americans are exposed to in the mass media. Many scholars and journalists have pointed out that this consolidation has harmed democracy by crippling the media’s willingness and ability to inform the public.
Media consolidation in Columbus has gotten as bad as anywhere in the U.S., and is far worse than in many other American communities. In 2011 The Dispatch Printing Company purchased virtually all the print publications in Central Ohio, including the main alternative newspaper, The Other Paper. That’s in addition to its ownership of local TV and radio media. Recently the company announced that it is closing The Other Paper. Some have described the current Columbus media situation using terms such as “propaganda” and “mind control.” And they have quoted Carter G. Woodson’s famous statement: “If you can control a man’s thinking you do not have to worry about his actions.”
Public access TV could help counteract these problems by allowing a diversity of voices to reach a mass audience in Central Ohio. Unlike other voices currently heard on TV, the voices of the public would not be funded by big-money interests, which have gotten even more powerful on TV after the U.S. Supreme Court’s widely criticized 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission.
Additionally, the voices of the public would help keep the local news media honest. Media executives would be less likely to operate in a one-sided and biased manner if they knew that members of the public had the ability to correct any propaganda and misinformation in front of a mass television audience.
Conclusion
Many more reasons could be given for supporting public access TV. But the CPAT believes that these four major ones are more than sufficient justification for it.
Because of the important benefits of public access TV, hundreds of U.S. cities offer it. Columbus’ failure to do so can put the city in an unfavorable light when compared to those other cities. For example, some in the local Somali community have expressed disappointment and bewilderment that Columbus does not have public access TV whereas Minneapolis, with its large Somali community, does.
In fact, the law appears to require NOColumbus City Officials to strive to provide public access TV to the community. Section 595.01(E)(4) of Title 5 of the Columbus Code states that the City’s policy regarding cable communications systems includes “the promotion of increased public . . . access and programming, in terms of quality and amount.” The law’s drafters and enactors obviously understood the significance of this subject.
Public access TV is an extremely important communications medium and would greatly benefit Central Ohio. We therefore ask you to urge City Council to approve the requested funding for it.
Jonathan C. Beard
President and CEO
Columbus Compact Corporation
1051 E. Main Street
Columbus, OH 43205
Phone: (614) 251-0926 ext. 301
Fax: (614) 251-2243
www.colscompact.com

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