by Gary Martin
Executive Director, Access Sacramento
In a vote to support community media on cable, the California Senate yesterday voted to ask for an improvement in federal law so that local Public, Education, and Government (PEG) access television channels have more flexibility in the way they can spend their money.
The California Senate voted 26-5 in support of Assembly Joint Resolution (AJR) 39, which calls on U.S. Congress to modify rules that require money to support equipment purchases may also be allowed to pay for operational expenses like salaries and office expenses.
The California Assembly previously voted in support of AJR 39, so the request will now be forwarded directly to California’s lawmakers in U.S. Congress.
“This is an important step forward in sending a message that removal of restriction on how PEG funding cam be used is of critical importance in California and across the country,” said Sue Buske, community media advocate and President of The Buske Group, a Sacramento-based community media consultancy and research firm.
Community access media supporters point to the job creation and economic development that would occur if the proposed spending restrictions are removed.
While some money that flows to many PEG channels and Community Media Centers around California is unrestricted and can be spent on operational expenses, many other centers only receive dollars that are restricted for exclusive use on capital outlay like cameras, microphones and other production equipment.
Since 2008 when the economy declined, nearly 50 community media center around California have closed because local lawmakers decided to keep the unrestricted cable dollars for different city initiatives, and to only allow the capital outlay money for the PEG channels. The rules provided money for equipment, but left no money to pay for staff; with no one on salary to make the equipment purchases, the public access channels were forced to close their doors.
The PEG channels in Sacramento periodically have had reductions in their unrestricted funding because of economic events, but overall have enjoyed the favorable support of the Sacramento Metropolitan Cable Television Commission (SMCTC) and have remained open for broadcasting on public, education and government channels since 1986. Just two weeks ago, the SMCTC voted renewed support for its PEG channels and provided a much appreciated 2% Cost of Living Adjustment.
That has not been the case elsewhere. In Santa Rosa earlier this month, lawmakers voted to provide $300,000 to public access for 2014-15 but announced their intention to cut the funding by $75,000 in each other next two years, with no intention to renew support after the current three-year offer.
A change in federal law then, if approved by Congress, would provide the freedom for public access centers in California and around the country to control their budgets with fewer restrictions and to support both job creation, economic development and the mission of providing local citizens access to community programming that rarely receives broadcasting time on local commercial stations.
Gary Martin is the executive director for Access Sacramento, the 28-year non-profit non-commercial operator of two public access channels in Sacramento County whose mission is “Giving voice to the thoughts, dreams, opinions and community arts and cultural events that make Sacramento County such a wonderful place to live.”