Cable Access Producers Unwilling to be Herded into Free Speech Zone
One of our last venues of community access to local media, Portland Community Media (formerly Portland Cable Access) faces prospects of de facto censorship within proposed "Free Speech Zone," at the hands of a questionable Executive Director.
Amid a hostile environment consisting of a dubious Executive Director, a questionable consulting firm, an uninvolved Board, and a City Council willing to hush the public's voice and spend Cable Access funds elsewhere, Freedom of Speech at Portland Community Media is at risk of being destroyed.
As if having the national media taken over by a half-dozen media moguls weren't enough, Public Access stations across the nation are facing an onslaught of interests bent on destroying the last vestige of the public's voice on our own airwaves.
Here in Portland, this trend has taken on many forms. The most disturbing of which has been the recommendation of PCM's Executive Director to "brand" public stations and limit certain programming - such as shows of a political nature - to being broadcast as little as one day a week, thus creating a veritable Free Speech Zone within Public Access.
Considering that there isn't close to enough programming to fill the current schedule, one has to wonder why the Executive Director or his costly consulting firm, Loadstone Communications, might even consider such a limitation. The answer comes down to true motives. In Austin, Texas, this type of channel branding severely restricted the public's voice on their own station, with producers having to face a review board to even have their shows approved for broadcast.
In imitating this approach, PCM's Executive Director wants to assign broadcast time-slots based on a show's "quality." Exactly who or how this subjective judgement-call will be made has been left vague, but based on the Executive Director's desire to do away with certain problematic producers, it seems clear that shows with anything critical to say will be the first to face de facto censorship.
But these recommendations are only the tip of the iceberg in a long story of questionable management on the part of the Executive Director. One major concern of PCM producers is the Executive Director's refusal to allow public and producer participation in decision-making. He has spoken out in board meetings to keep producers locked out by preventing board meeting times from being announced to the public. He has personally insulted several producers and acted in an aloof and elitist manner to volunteers and staff at PCM. And he has failed to provide any news via the website, bulletin board, or newsletter concerning changes the Operating Rules and Procedures made by the PCM staff or Board of Directors. Considering that the producers are the lifeblood of PCM's programming, the fact that they have been shut out, insulted, and ignored raises vital questions into the Executive Director's qualifications for the job. However, considering that the Executive Director hired himself for the position, his shortcomings were apparently overlooked.
Another serious concern of many producers at PCM is the Executive Director's gross mismanagement of funds. This includes such things as:
-Not only supporting the city's proposed 8% budget cuts to PCM, but
countering with a 12% budget cut.
-spending $70,000 ($30,000 over budget) on an artist to give PCM a
-wasting tens of thousands on consulting firms making recommendations in
opposition to the public interest.
-spending $75,000 of PCM's dwindling budget on a name-change that did
away with 20 years of name recognition as a nationally-award winning
Cable Access station.
-Spending $11,000 on a new website that provided less information than
the previous site.
-Alloting no funds to replace malfunctioning and outdated equipment such as decks
that eat tapes, cameras that don't work, studios in poor repair, and 20 year old
props. In light of these oversights, the Executive Director's "improvements" have
been "likened to icing on a stale and moldy cake."
In the midst of all this mismanagement, where is the Board of Directors, who is ultimately responsible for the hiring and firing of the Executive Director? For the most part, they have simply been out of touch with the producers, staff, and community of PCM. Producers have mixed opinions as to whether or not the Board, like the Executive Director, is operating under an ongoing conflict of interest, possibly related to the politics of the City Council, Mount Hood Cable Regulatory Commission, or city budget. However, it has been stated that the Board is very unlikely to replace the current Executive Director.
In a letter to the Board signed by dozens of concerned PCM producers, they stated "We must give a vote of no confidence to the current Executive Director, whose employment contract is up for renewal." The letter continues, "We believe that a costly identity change to include the word 'Community' should be coupled with an Executive Director interested in developing a positive community with the very people his job performance impacts." Producers will be presenting the signed letter to Board members at a PCM Board meeting this Tuesday, October 26th at 6pm. The meeting is open to the public and will be held a Portland Community Media, at the corner of MLK and NE Graham.
With free speech hanging in the balance as Portland's last politically conscious shows, including Indymedia News, face possible censorship, it is vital that the community speak now to protect our last vestige of the public airwaves. To make your voice heard, you can call Kohel Haver, President of Portland Community Media's Board of Trustees at 503-295-2787.
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