NCTV president steps down; station faces complaints of content discrimination
A prominent local producer is accusing board members of Nevada County Television, the community access channel that has been in the region for decades, of discriminating against him by not airing his programs.
“The thing about access television is that it’s a First Amendment right that we have as citizens, and when someone moves to take away that right, what they are doing is violating a public trust that a station has with the community,” said Gilbert Dominguez, owner of TouchDown Productions. “So their keeping me off the air is a total violation of that trust. But it really goes along with what they are doing altogether; they have abandoned all the principles of access television.”
According to Dominguez, his productions of many community events, including the Nevada City Constitution Day Parade, National Night Out, and Thursday Night Market, have all been purposely excluded from the regular broadcast schedule of NCTV.
“When they are blocking me, what producers are they going to block next? Where does it stop? Where does it end?” he said. “Once you start discriminating against somebody, then it’s very easy to discriminate against the next person.”
Dominguez has gone to the extent of making such claims during a Nevada City Council meeting on Sept. 14, which was broadcast lived on Comcast Channel 17 of NCTV.
“Since they are keeping me off the air, the only thing that I can do is to go to the government meetings, because they have to air the government meetings,” Dominguez said.
In an email he wrote in response to The Union’s request for comment, NCTV board member Tom Prehn said the station does not discriminate against any producers in the community and that leaders at NCTV are looking into the situation.
“NCTV is committed to the mission of freedom of speech of public access television and does not restrict or deny submitted content in any way that conforms to our founding charter, created under federal and state law several years ago,” Prehn wrote. “We are deeply concerned by this producer’s claims and are investigating them thoroughly, including his past submissions and the many airings of his content. We plan to have our results shortly, and we can talk after that.”
Nevada County Chief Information Officer Steve Monaghan said he met with Dominguez Sept. 15 regarding his concerns.
“I have not had any complaints from any other local producers with this problem before, and I don’t have any current complaints from any local producers,” Monaghan said.
The charge by Dominguez is the latest in a litany of troubles experienced by the beleaguered public television channel.
NCTV has recently undergone a leadership transition, which resulted in the loss of two board members, including Interim Executive Director and Board President Jan Fishler.
Fishler said she submitted her letter of resignation in August, just a day after a county representative sat down with the board members to discuss a new contract that affected the capital expense for the station, a meeting during which some board members voiced concerns about the lack of operational funding and clear direction from county officials.
“I was working 30 to 40 hours a week, for no pay, it didn’t make sense to continue when I couldn’t figure out how to make it successful,” Fishler said regarding her resignation. “I couldn’t invest more time into something that was not going to be productive or profitable.”
She said Dominguez’s programs contain commercials, which are not allowed to be broadcast based on public access channel protocol.
“He thinks we treat him differently than other producers, but we are not,” she said.
Fishler’s resignation makes her the third board president to step down during a two-year span. Cheryl Noble and Keith Davies left in fall and spring of 2015, respectively.
Fishler said the prevalence of social media has made public access channels a less attractive medium for content broadcast. In addition, NCTV does not have the funds to hire and sustain talent, Fishler said.
“There is no salary for an executive director. There is a minimal amount of money to hire someone for special projects here and there. There is money to maintain equipment, but there is not much there to teach the classes,” Fishler said. “I mean, there is no oversight, there isn’t enough money to be viable. There should be some kind of a station manager, or executive director to go out to the community and get others involved. So that is the problem, I don’t know what the solution is.”
There are fewer producers in the community now to provide content for NCTV, Fishler said, adding that it’s also difficult to get underwriting.
“I did some math, and in order to pay a salary, we have to get underwriters, like $5,000 a month in underwriting,” Fishler said. “You can get $5,000 but to sustain that over a 12-month period … I don’t think we have the interest in the community to support that.“
Monaghan said the lack of operational funding is a common challenge faced by every nonprofit in the county.
“They have been successful in the past in doing fundraising and getting sponsorships, and building memberships,” Monaghan said. “That is a good strategy for them to meet those needs.”
He stressed that NCTV is an independent entity that has a contract with the county to produce public access services.
“They are an independent nonprofit, like many other nonprofits in our community. So the county doesn’t have any jurisdiction, or governance, or legal connection to how they run their corporation,” Monaghan said.
Dominguez declined to comment further on the matter late last week, citing an ongoing negotiation with representatives of the public television station, which has been put under a “good-faith agreement,” he said.
“The agreement is they are going to air our programs, and we are not going to go to the city council right now at this moment,” Dominguez said. “We will see where it goes from there.”
To contact Staff Writer Teresa Yinmeng Liu, please email email@example.com, or call 530-477-4236.
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