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
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
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.