by James Whitely -
SGN Staff Writer
As it stands right now, SCAN (Seattle Community Access Network) TV will cease operations on December 31, 2010. Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn cut the funding for SCAN in his 2011 budget, released September 27. Viewers, producers, and free speech and media activists aren't taking the closure sitting down. For them, if public access is eliminated, free speech is threatened.
'It doesn't seem that there is a single champion in the city council or the mayor's office that is rooting for public television,' said Liz Latham, a SCAN producer.
With his new budget, the mayor eliminated all funding for Seattle's only public access television station. The initial budget was then approved by the Seattle City Council on November 12, and the general public has only until November 22 to contact the mayor and city council before the budget is finalized.
'I was very dismayed and appalled,' said Dian Ferguson, executive director of SCAN TV during a SCAN press conference. 'I am outraged about this and I hope that the public is as outraged as I am.'
'The decision was made effectively behind closed doors,' said Gilbert Wardian, a producer at SCAN who produces his own health and wellness show.
Many producers at the November 16 press conference were outraged, saying that the closure of SCAN would be a hindrance to Seattle's right to free speech.
'There is no other place for the general public to practice their freedom of speech skills - and don't doubt that those skills are needed to practice freedom of speech in 2010,' said Marlee Walker, producer of Blues To Do, a blues music program on SCAN.
One producer quoted Peter Finch from his role as Howard Beale in the Oscar-winning 1976 film Network.
'All I know is that first you've got to get mad. & So I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window. Open it, and stick your head out, and yell, 'I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!'
Public access channels come from Section 611 of the Communications Act of 1934, part of Roosevelt's New Deal. The act was amended to include public access with the telecommunications act of 1996. It is a dedicated channel space on cable systems specifically for 'use by the general public'
According to Section 611(e): 'A cable operator shall not exercise any editorial control over any public, educational, or governmental use of channel capacity provided pursuant to this section, except a cable operator may refuse to transmit any public access program or portion of a public access program which contains obscenity, indecency, or nudity.'
What this means is that public access television is virtually the only channel on TV where anyone can say whatever they want, without censorship and without corporate/advertising bias - even PBS (Public Broadcasting Service) operates with corporate sponsorship, and thus must keep a bias to maintain funding.
'There are certain subjects and certain people that they [the mainstream media] just won't cover,' said Ed Mays, a producer with SCAN TV.
Underground and viral activism films such as Zeitgeist, the signature film of the Zeitgeist Project activist group, and Loose Change, a 9/11 'truth' film, can only find television syndication on public access. Legitimacy aside, these ideas would never be seen by someone who doesn't have internet access, which according to the International Telecommunication Union, is still roughly 25% of all Americans.
Wardian says SCAN is at its pinnacle right now and makes a point to remind people that the internet has not yet replaced television.
'People watch SCAN,' said Wardian. 'People watch TV.'
SCAN is also the only television station in Seattle to air Democracy Now, an immensely popular nationally aired political show.
Additionally, since community producers create the majority of content for SCAN, it is representative of a variety of perspectives and communities.
'Many programs are in languages not available on mainstream television networks. SCAN ensures the presence of diverse cultural groups and ideas traditionally unheard, marginalized, or under-represented in the media. Mainstream and commercial media too often fails to tell the stories of diverse cultural groups. When the stories of these groups are told by mainstream and commercial media, they are often told incorrectly and/or with bias. SCAN allows people to tell their own stories without filters, allowing the storyteller to be an agent of change that can foster dialogue and break down barriers. In this era of media consolidation, it is important that a medium be available for the independent voice,' said SCAN in a press release.
SCAN is the only channel to show Seattle's PRIDE Parade in its entirety on Adventure TV, a show on SCAN produced by TJ Williamson.
SCAN is on the air 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for a total of 8,760 hours a year. Programming ranges from entertainment, music, the arts, education, self-help, health, politics, community issues, religion, spirituality, sports, and youth-oriented programs.
SCAN is asking the public to use their voices and right to free speech by asking the city council and the mayor's office to reinstate funding for SCAN at the level of $650,000 annually - but remember, you must do this by November 22.
Additionally, the website savescan.com will soon launch, along with a Twitter/Facebook awareness campaign.
'We're the 13th largest city in the United States, and I think we need a public access station,' said Latham.
Walker paraphrased Voltaire's famous quote: 'I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.'
She then went on to say, 'Freedom of the press meant newspapers in his day. Now television reaches the most Americans of any medium. Look for proof during each election, when candidates and their allies spend most of their money on television commercials trying to influence our democracy. If the people do not have their own voice in television, free from corporate or government influence & then they truly have no free press.'
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