Editors Note: Today marks the end of an era for Denver Open Media (DOM) and the end of Public Access for hundreds of Denver Residents including Latin Life Denver Media. After 12 years of serving residents through the various production facilities and training classes at DOM facility, the city of Denver will begin removing equipment from the building starting tomorrow December 20, 2018. DOM has been an invaluable asset to Latin Life Denver Media enabling us to produce various television and radio shows including three live Cinco de Mayo television specials distributed through Comcast TV and 104.7 FM. On December 19th DOM media producers, staff and supporters gathered at the production studios at 7th & Kalamath for an all night live TV “Farewell Slumber Party” with non-stop airings of music, testimonials, entertainment and much more. The loss of DOM represents a setback for Latin Life Denver Media but we will work vigorously with the city of Denver to make sure that not only Latino but all voices are heard and their messages are received through whatever public access media is developed going forward.
By Michele Swenson
The FCC is proposing policy that would eliminate funding for public access media, shutting down thousands of community stations nationwide. The mayor of Denver is preparing to remove equipment from Denver Open Media (provided by Public, Education & Government (“PEG”) fees paid through Comcast, in order to permit an individual of the mayor’s choosing to replace “public” access and run “government” access media from the city and county building.
Another Takedown of Democracy: Removing “Public” from Public Access Media
Current proposed FCC policy would defund thousands of community media stations nationwide by redefining, to benefit the corporate bottom line, the formula for Public, Education, Government (PEG) fees that are assessed through cable providers Comcast and CenturyLink. Proposed FCC policies would further reduce both local government regulatory authority and municipal revenues, as well as eliminate a City or State’s legal ability to enact Net Neutrality rules. Writes Portland Open Signal community: “This policy could eliminate the free access that community media centers provide citizens to create their own media and broadcast it over the cable system. One of our most powerful, most democratic local resources could be lost.”
There is a marked contrast between responses by the leaders of Portland and Denver regarding efforts to preserve Public Access Media. Portland Open Media is organizing with elected officials, the local Cable Regulatory Commission, and other cities to fight FCC proposed policy changes. Even as Portland’s Mayor notes that proposed FCC policy would eliminate “approximately $9.5 million dollars from the City’s general fund each year,” Portland’s City Council has authorized the City Attorney’s Office to sue or join lawsuits to fight implementation of FCC policy.
By contrast, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock is preparing to effectively shut down the primary provider of public access media services in Denver. To its 350 members, and many more in the wider Denver community of diverse cultures, ages and experiences, Denver Open Media has for over a decade provided a unique opportunity to learn every aspect of field and studio production, while creating programming for three Comcast TV stations. Open media represents a small oasis of democratic participation in an environment of corporate dominance that often drowns out voices of the people.
Even as the City has promised a “seamless transition” for Public Access Media to the Buell Public Media Center at 21st & Arapahoe St., scheduled for completion in 2020 to house Rocky Mountain PBS, Emily Griffith Technical College and other public access media, it has produced no transition plan. On October 26 the City cancelled the Request for Proposals for a Media Access Coordinator after Open Media Foundation submitted a proposal by the October 19 deadline. Nor has the City sought to insure continuity prior to the move to the Buell Center by renewing the contract for provision of equipment between the City and County of Denver and the Open Media Foundation, set to expire December 19. Instead, the Mayor’s office has reiterated the intent to remove and withdraw funding of equipment through the Public, Education, and Government (PEG) fees that are reserved for “Capital Expenses” – i.e., equipment, software, and maintenance.
In a recent letter to Denver Mayor Hancock expressing concern about the City’s RFP process, Mike Wassenaar, President & CEO of the national Alliance for Community Media, noted that, unlike any other city in the U.S., the City of Denver has provided no operating dollars for Denver Open Media/Open Media Foundation over its 12-year contract with the nonprofit, yet DOM/OMF has generated a “remarkable…level of output and creativity” and a remarkable “return on investment.”
Wassenaar observes, “The purpose of contracting with independent, non-profit entities to perform community media services is two-fold: It holds the City at arms-length from any First Amendment claims of government interference in public or religious speech supported by the facility; and it allows for the generation of alternative revenues by the organization – and thus multiplies the impact of the City’s investment.”
The nonprofit DOM parent organization, the Open Media Foundation for 12 years has covered its own operating costs, including rent, staff, and utilities, while amplifying PEG equipment funding with $1-$2 million in grants, donations and other earned income.
Many different communities have appealed to the City to maintain continuity of services at DOM’s facility. Response from the Mayor’s office has been a kind of doublespeak, professing to “modernize the public access model,” while denying the certain disruption of services, including access to trainings, youth classes and editing facilities currently available at DOM, plus ease of access to two stages often utilized by community members for serial productions. The city recently announced a pared-down RFQ process, due December 16, to identify a single vendor to provide all services from the city and county building, replacing four paid staff and auxiliary unpaid staff at DOM.
The City’s efforts to remove “public” from Public Access Media and replace it with “government,” in order to control media and content, seems yet another takedown of democracy by the corporate state. Instead of vying with the FCC to be the first to shut down Community Public Access Media, Denver should join Portland in its defense.