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Shutting Down Public-Access TV 

AT&T and L.A. City Hall quietly lead a national push to silence the little guy

Wednesday, Dec 10 2008
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Page 6 of 8

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.

For months this year, Dutton begged the L.A. City Council to do something. She wrote to Rosendahl but got no reply. She spoke out during public-comment periods, urging the purported supporters of public access, including Rosendahl and council members Dennis Zine and Tom LaBonge, to step in. But to no avail.

“This is an old trick politicians have done over the years,” she says. “They wait until the holidays when people are distracted, and then they do whatever they want to do.”

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Cardenas denies that the City Council cynically waited for Thanksgiving, Hanukkah and Christmas to distract the fans of public access. Instead, he claims that the council and Villaraigosa were spending time trying to identify funds to keep the 12 studios open.

Councilman Rosendahl, a former Adelphia Cable executive who hosted Adelphia’s well-financed, sophisticated current-affairs shows, Local Talk and Week in Review, says Dutton’s depiction of an obfuscating, manipulative City Council is “unfair.” He pins the blame for what is happening on the 2006 state law.

But Villaraigosa’s and the council’s own antics seem to belie such claims. Independent producers were stunned by the thin 19-page report that details City Hall’s plan to wipe out dozens of small shows. The spare document, a stand-in for a much more detailed 60-page report that was quietly called off, makes no mention of the loss of numerous TV shows and contains no discussion of the negative impact on affected communities.

It was reminiscent of the tactics used in Villaraigosa’s aborted effort to turn Pico and Olympic boulevards into one-way streets — by claiming the massive new traffic that would be drawn to those two boulevards didn’t justify an Environmental Impact Report. In that case, outraged local neighborhoods sued to stop Villaraigosa, and a judge halted his ill-planned scheme until an EIR has been done.

But no L.A. lawsuits have been filed to protect public access, leaving City Hall free to ignore bothersome issues such as adverse community impacts. Says Dutton, “No community impact? They’re wiping out the community.”

Dutton and other public-access figures complain that the Garcetti-led City Council and Mayor Villaraigosa have “seized control” of public-access TV, and will probably only air shows that promote Los Angeles and its officials.

“I just don’t think the city is going to allow people to speak against them,” says Zuma Dogg. Despite his colorful persona, he is, in many ways, a quintessential Los Angeles resident. He had no idea how City Hall worked until its bureaucrats directly impinged upon his life, dramatically boosting the cost of his sidewalk seller’s permit in Venice a few years ago. Now that he knows about the insider favoritism, slick deal-making and hastily called controversial votes that go on, he’s become a loud critic both on his TV show and his blog at zumatimes.com.

“If they are given the choice,” he says, “they’ll keep people like me off the airwaves.”

And indeed, “option one” clearly describes the four public-access channels, post-January 1, as little more than promotional tools for City Council members, Villaraigosa, and other political insiders and institutions.

The “government-access” channel will be a continuation of L.A. CityView 35, a mesmerizingly dull station that broadcasts mostly City Council meetings. The “bulletin board” channel will be used to promote governmental and community activities and meetings, yet another way for the pols to promote themselves, with zilch controversy.

The “community/public-access” channel, controlled by nonprofit LACTAC, according to the city’s own report, could “include NYC-TV style programming” focused on arts and culture and might also “set aside a portion of the programming schedule for self-produced public-access content.” Beyond these vague suggestions, nobody seriously believes city government will let another hypercritical Leslie Dutton or Zuma Dogg bloom in L.A.

The technology commission’s report suggests the LACTAC-controlled channel that might provide a few meager airtime hours to citizen-producers will “serve the needs of nonprofit agencies.” But such an avenue can be easily manipulated by politicians in City Hall who use local nonprofits as not-so-subtle adjuncts to their climbs to power, then reward those nonprofits with special funding other groups cannot get. The mayor’s technology commission goes even further in its four-channel plan. Unnamed nonprofits would “collaborate” with “neighborhood organizations” to “ensure that program development is consistent with the values and priorities of those communities.”

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