For all its problems, FCAT serves community |

For all its problems, FCAT serves community

Foothills Community Access Television (FCAT) and The Union’s editorial page have a lot in common. We both are dedicated to the First Amendment imperative that the people’s voices should be heard. And we both try to facilitate a public forum in a community of widely diverse – and often contentious – views.

That’s why, in this week’s latest round in the ongoing cat fight between FCAT and its critics, we have to come down on the side of FCAT.

Sure, the channel has its problems. It is chronically short of funds and adequate facilities; its personnel must spend hours of teaching time to bring most of the amateur producers up to even minimal levels of competence; and it must depend on volunteers and public support to survive.

Nevertheless, FCAT is an asset and resource for our community, and doesn’t deserve the sniping it gets. Sniping, we should add, that amounts mostly to picayunish complaints about blue screens, out-of-town hires and “he said/she said.”

On the other side of the scale, we’ve done a little checking and learned that FCAT is on the air nearly 30 hours a week, with 24 hours locally produced. That includes a community bulletin board, shows by both Republicans and Democrats, public meetings such as the Nevada City Planning Commission, and the Nevada County News Hour.

The most popular shows on FCAT – the high school sports broadcasts by Gil Dominguez and Touchdown Productions – are the most controversial because Dominguez solicits what some charge are commercial sponsors, which he explains are underwriters.

There are strict guidelines proscribing commercial speech on government-supported public access channels, both by the Federal Communications Commission and, locally, by the city of Grass Valley. It prohibits mentioning the price of a product (even if it is free) and issuing a “call for action” (such as offering a free sample). But it allows logos or slogans, location information, value-neutral descriptions of a product or service, and brand names.

Just like National Public Radio and PBS, Dominguez skates a fine line in satisfying both his underwriters and the government. But we’d be the last to criticize him for trying to get financial support. Just like the cost of reporters and newsprint, the equipment and manpower to tape a high school football game is an expensive proposition, and the modest support he gets from local businesses isn’t making Dominguez rich. Fans of local high school sports, however, are richer for his presence on FCAT.

Western Nevada County should be proud of having a public access channel that offers the most programming per capita of any such channel in the country. If you think FCAT is flawed, volunteer to help and make it better.

Another way to help is financially. Nevada County and Grass Valley give FCAT $20,000 a year.

The channel hopes to raise an additional $8,000 by Christmas with a funding drive where local businesses match donations from individuals. Helping FCAT survive would be a worthy Christmas present to our community.

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