By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
“I told my colleagues at the League of Cities,” Cardenas says, “that as soon as the cable companies get the language they want, they’ll leave us high and dry, which they did.”
By June 2006, things unfolded that way. In the California State Senate, the bill was revised, letting the clamoring big cable companies have the same deal as AT&T. Now, all cable companies can bypass city halls, negotiating their franchise contracts with the Public Utilities Commission based in San Francisco.
AB 2987 not only ends the financial support and operation of public-access studios by cable companies, but the fine print contains a delayed poison pill that kicks in on January 1, two years after the law was enacted. It forever frees AT&T and others from maintaining, or constructing, any public-access studios after they pay a modest fee to Los Angeles and other cities — amounting to 1 percent of their gross revenue, on top of the 5 percent fee cable firms have long paid.
It happened fairly quietly, typical of controversial deals cut in Sacramento that go largely ignored by major media. Dutton didn’t hear about AB 2987 until early in 2008, more than a year too late. “Another producer told me about it when I was at a studio,” she says. Detailed alerts were being published on a smallish blog — written by Dugan.
Now, unless a dramatic eleventh-hour rescue materializes, public-access television in Los Angeles will undergo a huge upheaval beginning on the first day of 2009.
On November 18, 2008,two years after Villaraigosa, Garcetti, Cardenas and the rest of Los Angeles city leaders learned that the 12 citywide public-access studios were in jeopardy, the Information Technology and General Services Committee met downtown. Public-access producers Dutton, David Hernandez and others waited for “Item 2” to be called by the committee’s chairman, Councilman Tony Cardenas.
When the item came up, Information Technology Agency Executive Officer Mark Wolf walked through a report written by Villaraigosa’s political appointees who sit on the obscure Board of Information Technology. Wolf and Cardenas repeated two CYA-sounding themes: Nuñez’s law was no good and tied the city’s hands, and the city was reeling under extremely tight “budget constraints.”
Wolf then offered a plan approved by Villaraigosa’s appointees on the technology commission that indisputably hands over editorial control of the four still-standing cable channels to Villaraigosa, the City Council, the University of California system and the existing nonprofit, Channel 36, LACTAC.
Under “option one” as hammered out by the technology commission, the existing L.A. CityView Channel 35 will continue to be an official government channel; a new, second channel will offer safe “government-related” electronic bulletin-board info controlled by City Hall; the third channel will continue to offer acceptable programming overseen by LACTAC; and a fourth channel will be an “education” channel available only to pre-approved education groups and financed entirely by University of California TV.
There’ll be no more sex chat on TV, no more go-go dancing on TV — and almost certainly no more whistleblowing on TV. And that’s where the L.A.Times coverage went wrong on December 4, in a story headlined “Keeping Channels Open,” which bought into Councilman Bill Rosendahl’s silly spin that public access was being saved — by putting it under the aegis of the City Council and Villaraigosa.
Little surprise when Cardenas and City Councilman Bernard Parks, acting as the City Council’s Information Technology committee, approved the plan to create the four government-sanitized “public” channels — and the full City Council promptly agreed. On December 3 the council voted after giving the issue far less scrutiny than the hours upon hours it has spent wrangling over an elephant enclosure at the L.A. Zoo.
Dutton, executive producer and host of Full Disclosure Network, wasn’t happy. “It’s a terrible plan,” she says. “They are absolutely shutting the door on the public.”
She premiered Full Disclosure Network in 1992 after sitting through a free two-hour orientation class, which explained the nuts-and-bolts of making a TV show, then was granted the free studio time and free professional staff to tape a 30-minute segment.
“After the show,” says Dutton, “we started getting phone calls. People were excited. They had never seen anything like that.”
She has spent the intervening years sometimes harshly examining such questions as whether illegal immigration will lead to “civil unrest”; slamming, with extensive reporting, Villaraigosa’s failed takeover of Los Angeles Unified School District; and questioning whether mass media are “the enemy of America.” Full Disclosure Network has received two local Emmy nominations and won an Emmy in 2002.
Dutton has sufficient finances to now operate out of her own studio in Marina del Rey. But without the initial training and equipment, she says Full Disclosure Network could have never started. As a result of AB 2987, Dutton says “the voice of the community will be silenced.” Nonrich, nonconnected, everyday Angelenos “will never again have the opportunity to learn how to produce a program and have the operations to create a program,” says Dutton.