Sunday, May 17, 2015

Is It Curtains for Certain for Access Tucson?

Posted By on Sun, May 17, 2015 at 9:40 AM

For more than 30 years, Access Tucson has given Tucsonans the opportunity to learn how to work cameras, soundboards and editing equipment to create their own TV shows for broadcast on the local cable system. And until a few years ago, the nonprofit was among the best public-access facilities in the nation.

But in the face of fiscal troubles, the city has been steadily cutting back on Access Tucson's funding—and a few weeks ago, it issues an RFP to see if a new entity wanted to create a community media center to teach video classes, manage the public-access channels, broadcast the Tucson City Council classes and create a new marketing campaign highlighting the city as a positive place to do business. There's little longterm funding for the Community Media Center and it likely won't be allowed to remain in the current downtown home of Access Tucson and Channel 12.

Yesterday, Access Tucson Executive Director Lisa Horner announced that Access Tucson would be closing on May 31. Here's her statement:

Dear Members of Access Tucson and supporters of Community Media,

It is with great sadness that I must announce the closure of Access Tucson Community Media. At the end of May, Access Tucson will close its doors to the public.

At the end of this month, Access Tucson will have only enough funds to cover the costs of ending service. We will pay the employees and the final bills. We will continue to program the channel through June. If no additional funding has been received by this time, a message will be programmed on the channel informing viewers why they are no longer able to see the wide spectrum of vibrant content they once enjoyed.

There will be no local arts and culture programming;

no civic information and debate,

no inspirational or spiritual shows,

no interactive, live call-in opportunities,

no more alternative, national news programs,

no classes,

no summer youth programs,

no equipment checkout for independent media producers,

no public place for meetings and community engagement.

Nothing, nada, zero, zip. Lights out. Fín.

The only hope?

As you may have read, the City of Tucson has issued an RFP (Request for Proposal) to create a different kind of community media center, one that serves not only the public, but the City of Tucson's interests as well. The new center would provide coverage for City Council meetings, engage in workforce development training, create promotional materials to attract business to Tucson AND serve traditional community access services.

You can bet that serving the community is last on the list for a reason. At the City of Tucson's pre-proposal meeting, representatives from the Procurement Department and the Economic Incentives Office, indicated that they were looking for a better "product" in both City programming and community programming. Any time that there is talk of a better product for community content, you can bet that that means that there is a desire to eliminate programming. Free speech is great, just the RIGHT kind of free speech—not all that crazy stuff. They would argue that this is not censorship—just quality control. You tell me the difference.

Access Tucson is exploring the submission of the RFP application currently. It is a lot to commit to for the proposed budget of $300,000. That amount is less than one-tenth of the monies received through the cable franchise fees the City receives. The RFP exploration committee will look at the feasibility for writing and committing to this endeavor. Members of the Board of Directors, Advisory Board and staff will carry out this task. The process is already underway.

We will move forward to lobby our City leaders for extended funding through the RFP evaluation period. We are proposing a month to month payment which could extend services and or programming on the channels until a final decision is made. The award for the Community Media Center contract could take 3-9 months.

Access Tucson is not the only is not the only one affected

The City's own channel, Tucson 12 and their staff that provide operations are also facing the same uncertain future. The current RFP proposal reduces their staffing and puts control of the City channel and programming into the hands of another operator. While the initial move-in for a City-mandated co-location of Tucson 12 and Access Tucson was tense and awkward, we have grown into a relationship though working side-by-side which has revealed our common interests in serving the community of Tucson.

The staff of Tucson 12 have created award winning programming while at the same time making sure that the process of local government remains transparent and available to all through their coverage of the City Council meetings.

Those individuals who have dedicated their employment to this service will be reassigned or laid off. I wish them well through these difficult times and value our friends in-service with whom we have shared space with at 124 E. Broadway.

I thank each and every one of you who has supported, programmed, volunteered and participated in this grand social experiment where the government actually gave some power to the people. The power to express themselves, voice their opinions on somewhat equal footing with corporate-owned media, the power to have access to the most influential communications medium of our time, the power to create change, the means to share the stories of our lives...

It made a difference. It does make a difference. I can cite many examples of how this community organization has affected change, improved the quality of life for individuals and the populations served by organizations. The list is long. The recorded documents are there in our programming library—30 years of television—by, for and about Tucson.

I'll sign off with the Access Tucson tag—a little altered:

You have been watching Access Tucson where Tucson was on TV.

Stay tuned—for now—to the website for any updates.

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