Fifth public-access channel afoot?

From December 11-12, 2007:

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Articles in Champaign daily The News-Gazette about the discussion of an independent recommendation to establish a fifth local public-access channel that would be jointly operated by Champaign and Urbana. (Remember that the direct links to these articles will expire after Tuesday, December 18.)


Editor’s note: The addition of a “fifth wheel” public-access service – Champaign, Urbana, the University of Illinois, and Parkland College each have a number on the current Insight Communications dial – would require a projected $400,000 start-up cost and an annual $300,000 operations cost, according to “cable consultant” Moss & Barnett of Minneapolis, MN. The article implies that the “city staff” of Champaign (comprised of who, exactly?) would not have a problem with the former if most or all of it can be obtained from Comcast, which most likely will take over local cable television operations from Insight next year, but opposes being required to post one-half of the latter with Urbana taking on the rest of the costs.

I could see the city think-tank not wanting to fund something like this, for one of a million reasons why any city would not want to spend more money than it had to, and I could also understand cable subscribers not wanting to fund it if it meant yet another increase in their bills. (M.S. Dodds vocalized this last point at Tuesday night’s City Council meeting.) Personally, I’d be indifferent about coughing up a few more cents per month since I only have ultra-basic cable and the fee is buried in my rent, but that might not matter if outside funds including, a-hem, “user fees” can be collected instead.

Given the controversy that erupted recently at Urbana Public Television (UPTV) regarding programming which C-U watchdogs claimed would foster hate in our twin cities, I find Jerry Schweighart‘s knee-jerk comments expected and pandering. With some research, the body operating such a public-access channel could probably find ways to discourage material submitted by groups like the Ku Klux Klan or Neo-Nazis, should it materialize. (Boy, I never thought I’d invoke either on C-U Blogfidential outside of, say, THE BLUES BROTHERS or BAD CHARLESTON CHARLIE.) Have a little faith, Jerry.

What I’d be more concerned about is if the “Champaign-Urbana channel” would A. actually be watched by our citizens, B. effectively encourage participation by our citizens, and C. not be overwhelmed by conservative and predictable fare. (That’s what all the other local channels are for. Well, that and advertising.) Civic and church groups will always flock to an outlet like public-access, as long as competent techies are available to put their pretty faces and Important Messages on the airwaves, but I’d really like to know if such a thing could possibly foster … are you sitting down? … creativity. If users have to pay in order to play, then they should have the right to produce what they will – even if it can only air at 2 a.m. due to content.

I know. I know. I ask for too much sometimes. (I already did it once earlier this year in regards to the one local station apart from UPTV with the potential to facilitate my dreamy whims.) But, I can also have a little faith in Shampoo-Banana, can’t I?

~ Jason Pankoke

[Updated 12/12/07, 07:00 p.m. CST]

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