by Kirby LindsayDian Ferguson, Executive Director for Seattle Community Access Network (SCAN), has announced that they will cease operations as of December 31, 2010. SCAN is broadcast to over 450,000 King County cable subscribers on channels 77 (on Comcast) and 23 (on Broadstripe), 24 hours/7 days. The programming consists largely of public access – shows produced by the general public – all commercial-free.
The 2010 budget for SCAN operated amounted to $902, 027, with approximately $250,000 of that coming from fundraising and earned income. The rest comes from franchise fees, not tax dollars. Cable subscribers pay the fees (Ferguson estimated that subscribers each pay about $5 a month) to their cable provider. Up to 2006, the providers paid SCAN directly as the public access provider. Since 2006, the City of Seattle has collected these fees – through the Department of Information Technology (DoIT) - and given SCAN a portion for their operations.
Currently, cable companies provide more than $7.5 million in franchise fees to the City of Seattle, and for 2011, the Seattle City Council approved a .2% raise in what cable providers will collect from subscribers. Yet, the 2011 proposed City budget (up for vote by the Council on November 22nd) earmarks only $183,000 to fund public access- a huge reduction – and less than SCAN can operate on. Meanwhile, the Seattle Channel, the government access channel that broadcasts content provided by the Mayor of Seattle’s office, had a 2010 budget of $2.9 million.
Free Speech Anyone?
“We deserve better than this,” Ferguson stated at a press conference on November 16th, “what is the City’s priority for public access?” SCAN offers access to classes and technology for use by residents of Seattle/King County, where they can create programs broadcast on SCAN, and/or for streaming on-line. Two multi-camera studios, three editing suites and experienced staff allow production of programs that reflect the diverse variety of opinions, communities, languages, interests, and ideas within Seattle and King County.
Marlee Walker has produced ‘Blues To Do,’ a popular weekly show on SCAN, for six years. During the press conference, she paraphrased President Jefferson, “I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend your right to say it.” This ideal reflects what public access stands for – the presentation of viewpoints different, contrary or otherwise underexposed in mainstream media.
Deciding What Public Access Will Be
The SCAN studios, located just off Aurora Avenue at 1125 N 98th St, have little direct connection to Fremont, or Fremonsters. Granted, the weekly news magazine program, ‘Public Exposure’, produced at SCAN since 1992, has covered Fremont several times, including a show discussing the safety barrier for the Aurora Bridge, largely because I worked on the program as a volunteer camera person. Still, Walker pointed out, free speech, and the need to protect access to free speech, is as much an issue for Fremont as for anyone.
“Does the City Council, via DoIT, have the right to decide to spend these cable franchise fees on anything but public access?” Walker asked. The proposed budget does not do away with public access. It simply does not support maintaining the access already established, and let the SCAN equipment, knowledge, history and other resources go to waste.
Instead, the City has proposed putting out for bid for a public access manager. Ferguson urged everyone to demand this bid process be held publically, and done through a community representative body – not the closed offices of DoIT. Meanwhile, City representatives have already descended upon the SCAN studios to demand the building be ‘returned’ to the City - although Comcast deeded the building in 2006 to the non-profit 501(c)3 SCAN organization.
“The citizens of Seattle are being shortchanged,” Ferguson remarked. For those who wish to comment, or even fight, on this issue, she asked that they contact their elected officials immediately. Also, join lobbying efforts being done through social networks to reach the Seattle City Council and the Office of Mayor Mike McGinn. As Ferguson has asked, “the bigger issue is what is public access all about?”
©2010 Kirby Lindsay. This column is protected by intellectual property laws, including U.S. copyright laws. Reproduction, adaptation or distribution without permission is prohibited.