By Helga Gendell
Full Disclosure Network, a nonprofit Marina del Rey organization, presented a tribute to George Washington, entitled, “Remembering George Washington, the Father of our Country,” at a Feb. 16 President’s Day event that also highlighted the loss of public access television in Los Angeles.
Cable subscribers are paying an additional $5 million a year, on top of $30 million in cable franchise fees, which goes into the city’s general fund and that, by law, should have been utilized to keep public access studios and channels in operation, according to the disclosure network.
The Saturday morning brunch was held at the California Yacht Club and featured keynote speaker B. Scott Minerd, the chief investment officer of Guggenheim Partners, the equity firm that bought the Dodgers baseball team; and surprise guest, journalist, and former Los Angeles Daily News Editor Ron Kaye, dressed in full Continental Army regalia as George Washington.
Minerd noted that this was the 281st anniversary of Washington’s birthday, and said, “George Washington realized that what follows the revolution counts more than the revolution itself.” Washington believed that religion and morality were protected through the education of its citizens, said Minerd, asking, “Where is our George Washington?”
Kaye, speaking as Washington, said that the government should be a betterment of everyone’s life, that it was established for people as citizens first, to work together to solve problems, and not make those problems worse or to take advantage of the people.
Public access television programming had for years provided a practically free forum for subjects of diverse interest, such as activism, politics, religion, budding entertainers, and a variety of other issues and interests. On Jan. 1, 2009, a new California law known as the Digital Infrastructure and Video Competition Act (DIVCA) became effective, allowing Time Warner to close approximately 12 studios providing programming for 11 community channels in Los Angeles. The law provided an easier pathway for phone companies to break into the cable market, freeing them from specific and costly contract obligations, according to the disclosure network.
The law was drafted in 2006 by then-Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, who claimed that the law would increase competition and lower rates for cable subscribers. It was signed into law by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. A number of consumer groups questioned the validity of Nunez’s assertions.
Leslie Dutton, the founder of Full Disclosure Network, said the organization got its start 20 years ago on public access TV.
“None of the public access operations were ever funded by taxpayer funds, but there are those that want the public to think public access was funded to deflect from what was really happening,” she said. “The cable subscribers’ fees are being held in a restricted ‘public trust’ and looking at your cable bill you can see ‘PEG fees’ listed every month.”
PEG stands for public, educational, or governmental use. The current public access channels 35 (LA Cityview) and 36, provided by the city of Los Angeles, offer city and county political fare and school sports information, among other information.
Los Angeles City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, the former vice president of Adelphia cable company, is quite familiar with the issues presented by the lack of open access to the public and the loss of the 12 studios and 11 community channels.
He told The Argonaut, “I’m still outraged that these PEG funds are continuing to go into the city’s general fund with a gross of $31 million. The big phone companies bought off Sacramento.” Rosendahl confirmed that he will reintroduce the subject of full public access channels to the City Council.
The battle to regain full public access channels has continued since the law was first enacted. Los Angeles Public Access Coalition President David Hernandez had sent two requests for reconsideration of injunctive relief to then-California Attorney General Edmund G. Brown, Jr., now the current governor of California. The first request was sent in 2008, and a second request in January 2009.
In his request, Hernandez wrote, “The mayor of the city of Los Angeles, City Council members, and the city attorney have refused to respond to our letters requesting injunctive relief, under the California Business and Professions Code (Unfair Business Practices). And, they have made no effort to replace the public access facilities with the money provided by Time Warner Cable franchise fees for that purpose.”
The response by Attorney General Brown’s office to the second request for injunctive relief stated, “A law was enacted two years ago that shifted control of cable franchises from the counties/cities to the state. A delayed provision in that law went into effect on Jan. 1, 2009, and relieved the cable companies of any obligation to pay for, or maintain, studios or equipment for public access television. Cities or counties may opt to pay for it, but L.A. has chosen not to because of its fiscal situation. That left some public access shows unable to broadcast; some survived because they have their own studios.”
Hernandez said that as a cable subscriber who has lost public access programming, he wants a refund on his monthly Time Warner cable bill, and believes that subscribers are entitled to a $1 per month refund for the channels removed, and for which they are allegedly overbilling on monthly statements.
Other entities, such as The Caucus For Producers, Writers & Directors, an alliance of television and new media content creators, had also written to Brown in 2008, saying that “As the creative conscience of the television industry, and the only group to include members of all four guilds (WGA, DGA, PGA, SAG), our chief concern is protecting the artist’s inherent creative rights.”
Ed Asner, actor and former Screen Actors Guild president, has appeared in video interviews with Dutton regarding the loss of public access television and his concerns about the issue.
Information, www.fulldisclosure.net, or www.ptic.tv.