Its been a little more than a year since the City Council of Tucson closed down Access Tucson. We had served Tucson for over thirty one years as the local public access television station. In this year, I have had many people ask me what what happened to their favorite programs. Where did we go and why were we gone? What happened to our locally focused station and when would we be back?
These have all been hard questions to answer. Especially, when pushed for time. And especially since most people were not well informed as to the political pressures we were facing. We could not cover the story, as there is a state law that forbids us, ( the Access Tucson organization) from covering political stories. This law did not impair the individuals’ First Amendment rights, but forbade all public access organizations from participating in the political process as an organization. Not sure how that squares with the new ‘Corporations Are People’ mantra, but there it is as law.
There were other laws as well. Neither the state of Arizona nor the city council cared for openly expressed public opinion. Most public officials don’t. They tend to prefer ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ as to public opinion, unless they are paying scads of moolah to public polling corporations,when they want to know EVERYTHING.
On the other side of the equation were the rules laid down by the FCC and whichever cable company held the contract for public access. We are a non- profit organization and that comes with rules, too.
We had a very narrow path to travel and given the feedback from our community at large, we were very entertaining as we tried to open the doors of television communication to an ever widening audience. Many Tucsonans were kind enough to help, when Access Tucson sallied forth to battle our city council over their ever increasing calls for our budget to be slashed.
Because some people didn’t like our programming, they fussed about how we were wasting taxpayer monies. You may see the effect of their concerns in the restrictions that the current custodians of public access, (channel 20 on Cox Cable), have made up to satisfy their masters. They use something called the Miller Rules, where they might let you make TV if you pay them enough, but you can’t be shown on the channel, unless the members vote it worthy for the channel. For those of you who haven’t watched channel 20 over the last year, nothing local has made it yet.
And thats what you, the taxpayer, get for the $ 300,000 dollars you spent last year on public access.
No, Tucson hasn’t disappeared or stopped being the vibrant, interesting city that we once covered on six stations. We put your faces and lives on TV for thirty one years because you are OUR community and we love both it and you. And we LOVE making TV. And as members, we floated from show to show, garnering our accreditations for production as if they were the prizes in the Cracker Jack box. Atheists worked on religious shows, communists worked on programs of an extreme right wing nature, and the apolitical worked on anything that needed a crew. I, myself, have over 6,000 hours of television production under my belt. And thats only in studio, not outside productions and other work traveling with programs such as UFO-AZ.
Because the REAL stations and the Universities’ Media departments didn’t care for the public access model, they refuse to recognize our accreditation system, leaving many members with no way to continue in TV production. Unless they continued on as individuals, which many have done most sucessfully. Ask Jim Clicks’ son, who frugally trained at Access Tucson and now does all his father’s commercials.
We fulfilled all of our mission statements. We taught classes that empowered our community’s ability to communicate, we served those who had no access to communication, we have thousands of hours of local non-profits who had programs devoted to their efforts to serve our community. We did it all and we have the tapes, (now files), and the memories to prove it.
And despite the city, we haven’t, as they hoped, gone away.
We had to fight to keep what belonged to us, that we had paid for, legally, with our own contractually agreed upon budget.We got to watch a guy we used to employ spread calumnies through the community, by way of the multiple RFP’s he wrote to the city. We had that culminate in a city official tell us we were thieves, (You bet we have that on tape. And file), when they still hold our necessary tax files hostage at 124 E. Broadway, our former home. We hope the IRS will work with us after our extension runs out, because we’ve waited patiently while the city council “evaluates” the new public access custodians and public access’ impact on the community. Councilwoman Karen Uhlich gave that process a year, which will be up on September 15th of this year.
Lest you think I’m writing because I have an ax to grind and prefer to do it publicly, (I have several, but not for here), I’ve written this because all this stuff has endangered the larger and more important issue, which remains Public Access. The current custodians had no background in television and relied on our former employee, who had no knowledge about TV production and who assumed that “any idiot can make TV”, which is true in a limited
sense, but not if you want to be able to actually broadcast it. Or have someone watch it. Willingly. As a result they have relied upon their strength, which is the divine intertubes, using all the non-copyrighted things they could find.
But this is not Public Acccess within the intention of the act. By doing this they have weakened the legal argument for ANY public access stations at all. And while many may have complained about all those tax dollars that were wasted, I’ve been writing to you, the people of my community who’ve stopped me and asked me what happened, who wondered about their favorite show, or host or even why, when we had been there all their lives, we hadn’t said goodbye and its hard to explain, in two minutes or less, that we were given three weeks to come up with a comprehensive plan that included two distinctly different channels, taking over all the city’s self promotion duties and developing an app for smartphones to promote Tucson to visitors, a process that would normally take at least six months and do it all for that $ 300,000 I mentioned earlier. And we couldn’t do it. But we tried.
And I bet you understand, now, why I’d say talk to the city council about your questions. Because there are no ‘real’ answers. Except one.
Don’t let the concept of Public Access die.
This year of evaluation, if treated casually, could be its’ death, legally. Just when we need to be able to speak and be heard, as citizens and friends of our communities, don’t let them close their ears to all our voices. Support Public Access. And call, write, text your city councilperson and say that you do. Because, sadly, the clock is ticking. And that is the nature of communication.