Strategizing to save public TV channels
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05/15/08 by Dawn Morgan
WMNF Drive-Time News Thursday | Listen to this entire show:

A strategy session was held this morning at Tampa Bay Community Network (TBCN) to discuss ways citizens can rally and amend Florida’s Consumer Choice Act of 2007, which threatens Florida’s public access, education and government TV channels, known as PEG channels.

Mark Hart is a former journalist who in 2008 became the statewide organizer for the Florida Media Coalition, after TBCN and the Florida Public Interest Research Group (FL PIRG) received a joint grant to create the position.

Hart, along with TBCN’s Louise Thompson and FL PIRG’s Brad Ashwell, held an informal discussion to strategize what concerned citizens and public access supporters can do to amend the Consumer Choice Act Legislature in the state Legislature’s 2009 session. If the act goes into effect as is on its designated start date in 2012, PEG channels could be out of Florida for good.

The Washington, D.C., based Media and Democracy Coalition is collaboration of more than two dozen public interest organizations whose aim is to amplify the public’s voice in media and telecommunications issues. The coalition funded the grant for Hart’s organizer position, and executive director Beth McConnell says that the loss of PEG stations is a threat occurring around the country.

“We are very concerned about a trend that’s happening in many states, including here in FL, where local PEG channels are going dark due to cable franchising rules," McConnell said. "And we think that the loss of PEG channels is a real threat to democracy arts and culture, and to having a more vibrant, inclusive media. So we’re supporting the efforts of TBCN, FL PIRG and FMC to save PEG in FL.”

Fewer than 10 community members gathered in this the first organized albeit informal discussion inside Studio B at TBCN Thursday morning.

“Today’s event was to try and develop a long-term strategy for getting amendments to the Consumer Choice Act of 2007, cable franchising bill. But it was also to get the best thinking of people who are involved in public access programming," Hart said. “We’re watering the grassroots at an event like this. And hopefully the grassroots will grow.”

WMNF: The only main stream representation I've seen depicting public access was Wayne’s World. That didn’t really give a valuable impression of public access. Is that part of the message you have to spread, that people don’t know what PEG’s are?

Beth McConnell: Right, some people who have never seen a PEG station don’t realize the vibrant and innovative programming that’s happening on these stations. It’s true there is some programming not of interest to everyone, but that’s the beauty of a public station, is that everyone has a chance to create something and put it on the air. And it might not be of interest to five million people, but for the 50 or the 5 that it is valuable to, they have that space and place when they don’t have it in main stream media.

The Consumer Choice Act of 2007 was sponsored by Representative Trey Traviesa of Tampa, and Mike Bennett, Bradenton, both Republicans. Last year, Bennett told the St. Petersburg Times that “consumers will have a choice, they'll have control.” Both were lawmakers were unavailable for comment for this story.

Learn more:

Tampa Bay Community Network

Florida Public Interest Research Group](http://floridapirg.org/)

Media Democracy

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