OUR VIEW: Public deserves more access to its ‘public access’ station
September 7, 2013
Word of the impending closure of NCTV and the Nevada County Digital Media Center shocked many last week — not that it was a surprise the community public access station struggled financially, as its history has been beset with budget woes since its inception 20 years ago, rather because its board of directors decided to pull the plug without even letting the community in on the conversation.
On Aug. 23, NCDMC President Karen Marinovich, who said she has been a member of the board for three months, sent out a news release announcing an Aug. 15 decision by the board to "close down the operation of the media center and its cable television channels 11 and 17."
Marinovich's news release pointed to the "recession" and a "forced move" from its previous location as leading contributors to the station's downfall. Executive Director Lew Sitzer said in an Other Voices published in Friday's The Union that the Digital Media Center's governmental funding amounted to "$30,000 a year, but our rent alone is $36,000. "Moving to our new location caused our reserves in capitol to decline, and our operational costs were always close to the bone," Sitzer wrote.
A full review of the organization's budget is in order, which board members told The Union (see related story on page A1) will soon be made available.
Of course, last week's announcement was not the first time western Nevada County had been told its public access TV station would go off the air.
"How dire is it?" Sitzer said in May 2006. "NCTV is scheduled to close its doors at the end of June."
That situation was eventually resolved three months later through NCTV's renegotiations with Comcast and Suddenlink cable companies. Suddenlink, according to The Union archives, added a fee of approximately 80 cents to monthly bills to help bring in additional revenue. During negotiations with Comcast one year earlier, NCTV officials had said they needed between $200,000 and $300,000 per year to stay on the air. Comcast then conducted a survey of its customers that showed 80 percent of respondents weren't interested in paying more money to finance facilities and production equipment for a public access station.
In 2004, Foothills Community Access Television, which was the original public access TV station founded in December 1993, closed its doors when the Grass Valley City Council pulled the plug when it was discovered that the station was operating in the red and planned to sell equipment to make ends meet. The council worked with then County Superintendent of Schools Terry McAteer to keep the station alive as Nevada County Television.
In 1996, FCAT's fate was on the table with the Grass Valley City Council, which discussed the option of having Sierra College oversee the operations, after criticizing FCAT for accounting practices that were "bordering on atrocious."
To be fair, those serving on FCAT's board are not the same members who currently comprise the Digital Media Center board. In fact, the board has seen a complete turnover within the past two years, Marinovich told The Union.
Some have wondered whether the announcement of the station's closure is a ploy to garner public support and funds to keep NCTV alive. But if that were the case, and as disrespectful as that would be to the community, it would have been a well-kept secret as the station's producers expressed outrage over the fact they were not even made aware of the Aug. 15 meeting where the decision to close was made.
Despite pledging to provide transparency to the public, Marinovich told The Union Friday the board's meeting was a closed session and not advertised because the board was dealing with a "personnel" matter. How a "personnel" matter led to the closure of the station also deserves further review.
Some members of the board are now scheduled to meet with other interested parties, such as government officials and station producers next Thursday. But organizers have decided to keep that meeting closed to the public.
Not allowing the community to be privy to a conversation over the future of NCTV is misguided, considering the organization is a community access TV station, whose mission is to offer residents unfettered access to public broadcast.
But western Nevada County residents will not likely be surprised at having the door shut on such a major decision, after the recent termination of a school district superintendent, the suspension of a fire district chief and the "resignation" of a city administrator with little insight offered on those decisions.
Ultimately, it's up to the public to demand the kind of access and transparency it deserves on decisions made impacting the community.
This editorial represents the views of The Union editorial board, which is comprised of members of The Union staff and informed members of the community.