Thursday, March 26, 2009

Wayne's World No More

The local access channel on our basic cable line-up is something we all take for granted. From cheesy local shows (as parodied in Wayne's World) to gavel to gavel coverage of the local planning commission's meetings, we may not have ever watched it much, but it was comforting to know it was there.

These stations (known as PEGs for "public, educational, and government") are now a dying breed. According to
California and Illinois are among 20 states that enacted laws allowing cable companies to end their support for PEG studio facilities, equipment and staff, and giving control of programming to state agencies rather than local communities.

When California's Digital Infrastructure and Video Competition Act took effect Jan. 1, Los Angeles closed 14 studios.
The article from Newsdesk, "Access Denied to Cable Viewers", goes on to describe pending legal action against AT&T and Comcast, who have sponsored the legislation that makes it easier to take local views and ideas out of the broadcast spectrum.

The future of Wayne and Garth is secure on YouTube. I'm not worried about them if PEGs vanish completely. But losing coverage of local city council, board of supervisors, etc., would be a great loss.

Yes, it's true that these meetings are open to the public, but transportation and other considerations make it difficult for many to get to them on a regular basis. On the PEG stations, these proceedings are often repeated several times, giving citizens many opportunities to check in on their local elected officials.

I don't mean to raise an alarm that if these stations go, it will give rise to fascism and tyranny in local politics (insert your own rude remark here). But anything that diminishes public oversight of government affairs - even the slightest bit - does diminish democracy in the end.

Broadcast and cable licenses are a public trust. They are a valuable commodity, and big business, with very little asked for in return. One of those things is public access to the airwaves. I think it's worth preserving.

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