Davis Media Access: Reimagining public media

By From page A3 | June 29, 2012

Special to The Enterprise

I write extensively about media policy in this country, and read even more. Still, I was quite surprised reading a June 21 article in the Columbia Journalism Review in which Davis Media Access is held up — among a mere handful of community media centers across the country — as part of a solution that might be used to address our country’s broken commercial broadcast model.

The article (“Building a multi-platform media for — and by — the public”) is written by Benjamin Lennett and Tom Glaisyer. It talks about the backlash from commercial broadcasters against a new Federal Communications Commission rule that requires commercial broadcasters to disclose their records on political ad spending.

It’s a simple rule change, one not so different from others that require broadcasters, as trustees of the public airwaves, to create and retain public files. Yet, broadcasters are fighting against this one tooth and nail.

Lennett and Glaisyer question the ferocity of the response, make note of commercial broadcasters’ largely unfulfilled public service obligations, and conclude, “If the broadcasters fight simple transparency requirements, should we ever expect them to dedicate significant time and resources to programming that informs the public?”

The article goes on to detail a decades-old proposal that would eliminate public-interest obligations and instead assess broadcasters a fee that essentially would support public broadcasting. Lennett and Glaisyer cite more recent scholarship that posits public media as having four layers: “infrastructure, creation, curation and connection,” all of which produce content that will be distributed across “newly reconfigured public media networks.”

They write: “We have to let go of the idea that public media is solely the responsibility of a small number of broadcast entities. We need to fund entities that support each of these ‘four layers.’

“Imagine a multiplatform public media that combined the production quality of PBS’ ‘American Experience,’ the reporting quality of NPR’s ‘Morning Edition,’ the content curation of Wikipedia — and the level of community engagement that exists for some public access cable television channels and low-power FM radio.

“In some communities there is already institutional movement in this direction, ready to be supported with more funding. Public access cable (PEG) television channels, funded almost exclusively out of franchise fees levied by local or state governments for access to public rights of way, are expanding beyond their traditional cable programming to include other media platforms such as radio.

“In Davis, Calif., the PEG station Davis Media Access also houses the local low-power radio station KDRT, which offers locally produced musical, cultural, educational and public affairs programming. Media Bridges, the PEG channel in Cincinnati, Ohio, operates a low-power radio station, WVQC, that features local artists and musicians.

“Imagine if these entities were funded to partner with the local public radio and television stations. You would have the reach of public television and radio with the local content and grassroots engagement of community media.”

While I am pleased that DMA is mentioned among such stellar company (the article also gives a nod to the Davis Wiki and several other community media colleagues), I’m neither naïve nor optimistic enough to believe that the National Association of Broadcasters would ever let this idea slip past their net of lobbyists.

And, after 16 years in the trenches of community media development, I sometimes wish DMA’s work was as relatively simple as selling commercial air time. We not only create and curate the content, we provide that opportunity for community members, help out as many community-based groups as we can, and raise money to keep it all going.

That’s the community engagement this article mentions, and I’m very proud of the community service we provide.

— Autumn Labbé-Renault is executive director of Davis Media Access, an organization providing access to, and advocacy for, local media. She writes this column monthly. Find out more about DMA at http://davismedia.org

Autumn Labbe-Renault

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