Public Access Television has become one of the most effective means for community members to create locally driven, independent media content for their communities. Across the country there are community run public access stations that have studios, equipment, training and access to cable and internet airwaves, all for the expression of the communities Free Speech rights. The funding for these programs comes from a 1970’s Congressional mandate of cable companies to contribute 5% of their gross subscriber fees to the community that the money came from. This funding has been utilized by people to create news shows, cultural programming, informative shows, highlights of the community, concerts, children programming and widespread discussions that focus on the accountability of our government.
As media conglomerates have taken over most media in this country, cable public access stations have fallen victim to corporate greed and the stifling of individual freedoms. Franchise agreements are made by municipalities on behalf of the community. Many cities run public access stations themselves and many stations are run by independent nonprofits. Over time, Congress has lifted the requirement for cable operators to directly fund public access in each community by giving the municipalities the full amount of funding, allowing the cities to spend the money in any way they desire. This has been a disaster for public access. Stations have been gutted, programming has ended and municipalities use the money for self serving projects and pad their budgets with money that was intended for the community to have a voice on the cable airwaves.
The People’s Press Project (PPP) is a media justice non-profit operating in Fargo-Moorhead community, which has the largest midwest metropolitan area between Spokane WA, and the Minnesota Twin Cities. PPP’s analysis of public access media has mirrored the rest of the country: most of the country’s public access stations have been gutted; leaving most rural areas with poorly funded public access stations, if any. The Fargo-Moorhead region of North Dakota and Minnesota are no different.
PPP has been fighting locally to improve and rectify our local access issues through education and awareness and by pushing our elected officials and our only local public access station to champion an expansion of PEG (Public Access, Educational, and Government) programming. PPP has been expanding the coverage of governmental meetings, PPP has held audio and video podcasting trainings, PPP has trained community members in multi-media journalism and PPP has engaged the community to produce their own news. All of this was being done by utilizing our only public access station, Moorhead Community Access Media’s (MCAM) equipment, studio and staff.
Last March, MCAM went through staff and leadership changes and the new general manager began to dismantle the studio, recalled all equipment from the community and began to limit access so severely that they no longer have locally produced content on the air. PPP uses a camera from MCAM four times a month to film and air governmental meetings and in August, MCAM decided to pressure the organization to pay a $240 nonprofit membership fee. We refused to pay an exorbitant amount since we had little access to equipment, studio time and have been treated with hostility with most of our access extremely limited. MCAM retaliated by suspending PPP for 6 months from use of facilities and equipment and will soon ban PPP entirely.
We at PPP feel strongly that access to the only public access station within the Fargo-Moorhead should not be restricted, especially to media justice organizations like us! The city of Moorhead and MCAM should support citizen journalism training, public access, and programming, not restrict them. We have been contacting local and national leaders to support our community in a fight for Free Speech and our access to our local cable access station and its equipment. We encourage you and your organization to support our work and weigh in on this issue.
Sign our Change.org petition to ensure greater access to government funded public access television and to hold accountable our public access television station and it’s leadership!
Duke Gomez-Schempp is Lead Organizer for the People's Press Project (PPP) and has over 22 years of experience as a community organizer and executive director of a several successful, social justice non-profits in the Midwest. Gomez-Schempp’s past organizing experience and work to change institutional racism in media and local community representation continue to inspire and spur his work today. An excellent organizer, Gomez-Schempp has quickly mobilized communities of color, faith groups, workers, students, and non-profit organizations to work on media justice trainings, issues, and technology. Gomez-Schempp also has extensive experience in local government and local policy making; media work, computer technology and media access issues. Gomez-Schempp brings much of his prior experience and drive, working the past two decades with organizations focused on disenfranchised communities, to his work as lead organizer of the PPP.