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Wednesday, Jan. 28, 2009 12:58 am

Imagination needed to save public access TV

Imagine cable television channels keeping you aware of all the local activities, events, policies and important decisions that affect your quality of life. Springfield offers that service, sort of. But how much longer the opportunity will exist is questionable.

The Dec. 11 Illinois Times feature, “Fringe Voices – the fading promise of public access TV” by Dusty Rhodes, focuses on Access 4, the Comcast public access channel. The channel’s “eclectic mix” of programming is certainly local, and there is plenty of room for a more visionary public affairs approach. I host a weekly “Citizens’ Forum” that interviews persons in key leadership positions. Throughout the week, other shows provide a wide variety of interesting and informative programs.

Access 4 could be a kind of CNN/PBS hybrid for the Springfield area. We are bombarded with an overwhelming amount of data and information, but rarely much knowledge. A cable channel dedicated to imaginative community programming can make the difference between a community stuck in second gear or a community reaching for the stars.

Achieving such a lofty goal, as challenging as it might be, is becoming ever more difficult. States, including Illinois, are allowing cable companies to override local municipal contracts. Comcast has closed studios in other locations. According to IT, a Comcast vice president suggests the cable company is continuing public access channels out of the goodness of its heart. The new state franchise law released cable companies from their pacts with municipalities, he says.

For now, Comcast has elected to abide by its local contracts. Staff at Access 4, however, has been reduced, the supervisor position eliminated and production hours for creating shows have been cut back.

It is important that both Comcast and the community understand the mutual benefit of continuing, and improving, public access TV.

A weekly program schedule for Access 4 should be printed in Illinois Times and the State Journal-Register. An occasional highlight on particular shows should evolve.

Some attempt to determine viewership is needed. Perhaps Access 4 could be included in local Nielsen surveys, or the subject of a UIS survey or graduate thesis.

A community survives on the intelligence of its citizens, and the people chosen to serve in leadership positions. Being a citizen is hard work. While that includes good newspapers, good magazines and good books, wouldn’t it be a blast if we had an imaginative, informative and exciting local cable channel by the citizens of Springfield for the citizens of Springfield?

Bob Gray is co-founder and president
of the Citizens Club of Springfield.

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