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Weekly News from the President- “The Beating Heart of Localism”

That’s the phrase of the day, and perhaps the year, as we talk about the impact of PEG community media in the U.S. I was inspired by the words of Common Cause’s Michael Copps, the former FCC Commissioner who gave an address this past week at SEATOA’s conference in Savannah GA. Here’s part of the speech:

“Localism is about the community. It’s about empowering community members to tell their own stories, covering issues important to every segment of a community, giving them real choices, and nourishing our civic dialogue.

“PEG is a critical part of this localism. Our public access channels are the beating heart of localism. As some of you know, I have been an enthusiastic supporter of PEG over the years.  According to a 2010 report by the Alliance for Community Media—and thanks to them for all their good work—the average PEG channel offered roughly 35 hours a week of original content. That’s a breath of fresh air in an age of homogenized infotainment. Public, educational, and governmental channels foster community dialog in a way nobody else can offer it. That’s important everywhere and it is particularly important in diverse communities where so many minorities and ethnic groups find themselves denied the coverage they deserve to have. Often PEG stations provide the only minority language programming in a community.

“Unfortunately, PEG is under attack. I think it’s shameful what has happened to them at the hands of consolidated media. Statewide franchising bills, passed at the behest of Big Cable and Big Telecom, have hampered their existence, including right here in the Southeast. Too often, cable companies move our community stations to the stratosphere of the television dial, or lock them out of the onscreen programming guide. The stations find the facilities available to them diminished, sometimes gone.  Current law splits PEG funding between operating and capital support, so a station might be able to buy a new camera, but it can’t hire staff to use them. That’s one area where Congress could do some good. PEG will surely evolve through the years; our job is to keep it strong now so it can evolve into an even more influential platform. We need that.  Our commercial media landscape is so starved for content and diversity and creativity. PEG is stretched. And public television is on a shoe-string, and even broadcast public service announcements seem a thing of the past. We just have to do better.

“It’s all about power, isn’t it?  And the power of the few to deny localism, competition, and diversity in our media must be stopped. We need to be doing everything we can to support local and diverse programming choice that brings real issues to the people and that accurately reflects the nation that we are. Power to the PEGs, I say.”

Thank you, Common Cause and Michael Copps!

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As part of that effort to keep community television strong, ACM filed reply comments in the FCC rule-making procedure on MultiChannel Video Program Distributors this past week (the comments are here).  We’ll be pressing the case with the FCC in coming weeks with other public interest partners to make sure that localism and the public interest benefits we represent are not diminished by the rule-making.