Where Has All the Access Gone?
return

Where Has All the Access Gone?
L A Wood, Berkeley Voice, June 8, 1996

The question, "Who stole Berkeley's public access TV?" will get some of Berkeley's old timers rehashing the events of 1972 which led to the disappearance of city-purchased TV equipment and the loss of any real opportunity for community-based cable access. Others are quick to recount, with dismay, the thousands of cable fee dollars which were not invested in community access during the next two decades. This proved to be a real cash cow for the general fund.

Yet, the events of the last two years have once again raised this question of the future of public access. Our story begins in the mid 1980s, when City Council convened a cable task force to implement Berkeley's PEG (public, educational and governmental) access. Two events which occurred at that time foreshadowed the many difficulties that lay ahead.

First, the community-appointed conveners who negotiated funding for PEG with council and the cable franchise were simply out-matched. It's not surprising to find that the community was left with so little after these negotiations. What should have rightfully been a $3 million PEG investment by council ended up being a mere $900,000 trickle down over the next 10 years. This has meant a very slow start-up and an uncertain future for Berkeley's TV access operator, Berkeley Community Media.

The second issue revolves around placement of the BCM facility. It must have seemed strange for the part of the task force designated to find a location for the facility to realize that no money existed to purchase property or to pay even a modest rent. This left Berkeley's PEG access poor and homeless. However, this story doesn't stop there. Left with the "facility problem," the conveners looked to other possible alternatives, including a site at the UCB campus. But, this was not to be.

About two years ago the Berkeley Unified School District stepped forward and began discussions about the facility's placement at Berkeley High School. For some, this must have seemed an easy way to resolve this dilemma, but it soon became evident that for a second time, BCM was being forced into a position of negotiating from a point of weakness. As a result, BCM was obliged to take the little that the school district offered.

Quietly and without any fanfare, Berkeley's public access has once again begun to slip away. Contrary to the public statements made by BCM's current director about receiving free rent from BUSD, residents are only now beginning to understand the actual costs of this move. So what kind of deal did BCM have to swallow? Simply, BUSD took half the public access resources in time and equipment for the next five years. Because of BUSD's educational video program needs, they will require more than 50 percent of all the staffing time that public access currently enjoys. Free BUSD board meeting broadcasts are also part of these perks. The systematic cutting in half of this community resource will further cripple Berkeley's public access growth.

At a recent city budget public hearing, BCM admitted that unless council raises BCM's budget by more than $80,000, BCM will be forced to reduce its services to the Berkeley community at large. This is the burden of this BUSD contract. Given almost no choice in the matter, BCM gave away the store. Make no mistake, those who now stand in opposition to the BUSD current contract are not in opposition to video being an important part of Berkeley's school curriculum. We just feel that BUSD should contribute to BCM's facility, not by monopolizing its staff and equipment, but by supporting the growth of a public access center augmented by video training for students. BUSD is going to dominate a city-designated community resource to fund its schools' video program needs.

The BUSD contract with BCM lacks fairness and institutionalizes this inequality. When BCM celebrates its grand opening at Berkeley High on June 8 and 9, some of us will begin to mourn the loss of our public access. Let this Berkeleyan be the first to call for the renegotiation of an equitable BUSD/BCM facility contract.


Berkeley Citizen © 2003-2017
All Rights Reserved