This afternoon, public access TV producer Leslie Dutton
of the Full Disclosure Network will lead a group of us from the left,
right and center of the political spectrum before the City Council’s
Budget Committee where we will get a minute or two to plead for some
token of support for a radical idea.
It’s called the First
Amendment. You know that quaint notion embodied in these words:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or
prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of
speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to
assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
Free speech is an idea whose time has come — and gone in LA.
years, Dutton and people with all kinds of beliefs — from Neighborhood
Council activist Dr. Dan Wiseman to sexologist Dr. Susan Block — could
hold forth on public access TV.
It was pretty bizarre at times to be sure but it was open to one and all and it also produced
serious news and commentary like Dutton’s Emmy-award shows.
access TV was part of the deal that cable companies agreed to in
getting franchises. They provided 14 studios and channels and the
equipment and staffing so that anyone could speak their mind.
that ended in January when state legislation stripped cable companies
of their franchises and freed them from providing public access
facilities. Instead, Time Warner which still owns the LA market despite
being de-franchised, has to provide the city with roughly $25 million a
year with $5 million designated by law for capital investment in
So far, City Hall has shown no inclination to do anything to keep the public element alive.
Channel 35 remains a showpiece for government propaganda from the
usually well-staged and scripted City Council meetings to “Fishing with
Herb Wesson” (my personal favorite) and uncritical reports on the
city’s great achievements — shows that are reminiscent of the Soviet
Union’s portrayals of heroic wheat farmers in the Ukraine. There is
also the tepid educational programming on Channel 36.
The city has the option to maintain four other channels but so far has
refused to, just as it has refused for so long to help fund development
of stronger public access programming.
Anyone who has watched how council members chat or are absent during
public comment or seen how Neighborhood Councils and other community
groups are kept in the dark and excluded from participating in the
debate on major issues knows how little respect City Hall has for the
public or for free speech.
Dutton is not someone to take City Hall’s rebuff quietly.
Last month, she brought together a diverse group of people — Ed Asner,
Stanley Sheinbaum, Arlene Peck, Dr. Charlotte Laws, David Hernandez,
Sandra Needs and me — to help set up the Public Television Industry
Corp. as a non-profit to keep public access TV alive. Each of us has
reached out to others, including former California Attorney General
John Van de Kamp d and Scott Minerd, CEO of Guggenheim Partners Asset
What we’re seeking is a small fraction of the city’s cable revenue to
help get a four-channel public access system off the ground with
private funding providing the rest of the money needed.
My own beliefs as a newsman is this is critical of we are to stop the
decline of LA and turn it into a great city where people from all over
the world have come in search of freedom, in search of bringing their
dreams to life.
The news media are in sharp decline and are struggling just to survive in
a scaled-down form. The Internet as a news and information source is
still in its infancy.
My own project, OurLA.org. a community-based online newspaper combining
citizen and professional journalism is I believe part of the solution.
Public access TV is another critical element.
Free speech is the first principle of American democracy. We need to
bring it back to life in LA to have an informed populace and the kind
of civic engagement that will break down the barriers of race and class
and bring us together as a city.
I hope you will support the free speech campaign.