Still waiting for our PATV

Published: Friday, January 13, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 13, 2006 at 12:39 a.m.
If an alien ambassador from the planet Mars had only commercial television as a resource to discover who we are as human beings, would you be satisfied with the images and values projected about you?
Another year has passed us by and with it another anniversary: the Jan. 7, 2004, designation by the Gainesville and Alachua County Commissions to establish an operational public access television (PATV) channel for the citizens of North Central Florida on the local Cox Communications cable lineup.
These PATV channels are flourishing all over the United States and world, offering an ideal venue for citizens to contribute creatively to their community.
They are essentially cultural community media centers where one can go and learn how to use modern media technology to tell stories or share art via a commercial-free community TV channel; an electronic green space owned and operated by the residents.
It is a small way in which the lucrative cable industry can give public access to local media back to the citizens who pay taxes on the roads where Cox sets down its cable wires.
So if a PATV channel was established for the community by local leadership two years ago, where is it?
Why is it that the only local programming fare on TV is city and county government channel broadcasts? Where is the local programming from unaffiliated citizens promised to this community by our commissioners over 24 months ago?
The commissioners voted for PATV in January 2004, after nearly a year of debate on the issue during the cable franchise renewal hearings. In this time hundreds of UF faculty, staff, students, business leaders, local activists, media artists, musicians and interested citizens from all over North Central Florida told local government, "we want our public access TV." An overwhelming number of residents spoke up for PATV in Gainesville.
A Consumer Survey also reinforced cable subscribers' majority interest in seeing more local sports, news, arts, and music coverage on television.
PATV advocates established a local not-for-profit organization, Public Access Television of North Central Florida (PATV/NCF). When a bid went out from the county calling for a business plan from interested operators of the channel, PATV/NCF submitted an 88-page bid proposal endorsed by local businesses and non-profits.
The deadline for proposals was Oct. 6, 2005. In late November we found out that the final evaluated score of PATV/NCF's proposal was a 330 out of a possible 500.
Since then, we have been waiting for the county to let us know if this issue will be addressed at the Jan. 31 city and county commissioners' meeting.
We at PATV/NCF were hoping for an opportunity to present our vision for the channel in a power point presentation to commissioners at this meeting, since oral presentations were skipped in the evaluation bid process for this visual media forum. Although we have requested ample notification time so we could prepare for the meeting, it is now just over two weeks away and we still have not heard back as to if PATV is on the docket.
Based on commissioners' comments in the last Sun story about PATV back in October, as well as considering the two-year history of this issue, a live and accessible channel for the public appears to be a long way away.
So what can proponents of participatory community television do but continue to wait hopefully - speaking out on frustrations in one of the few community spaces where an unaffiliated citizen can still be heard, thanks to The Sun.
As a two-year-old local community movement, we at PATV/NCF did what we could to keep this issue on the cue, admittedly without having all the answers but rather a popular creative vision for the possibilities. It is now in the hands of our local government.
If this mayor and team of city and county commissioners do not deliver on the community channel they promised their faithful constituents two years ago, I sincerely hope voters will remember that failed promise next election and next round of cable franchise agreement hearings.
While Cox cable rates continue to climb, as they did again just last month, maybe we can look forward to a day in the not-too-distant future when local television is more than violent crime shows, abrasive commercials, surreality TV, and network programs that do not reflect the race, class and gender of the fascinating and beautiful multi-cultural landscape we are blessed to reside in.
Raquel Garcia is an independent media producer and founder of Public Access Television of North Central Florida.

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