From: Elliot Margolies <>

To: NTIADC40.NTIAHQ40(piac)

Date: 6/19/98 3:13pm

Subject: Public Comment

Re: Public Interest Obligations of Digital Television Broadcasters

I've been a manager of two different public access television facilities

over the past fourteen years, both of which were recognized for the

"Overall Excellence" award by the national Alliance for Community Media in

various years. I am not writing to the PIAC Comission as an advocate for

public access TV, but rather as a concerned citizen, whose experience bears

on the issue of media and its effects upon democracy.

It is undeniable that a component of "Public Interest Programming" ought to

concern itself with the practice of democracy and civic participation.

There are numerous studies which show a marked decrease in citizen

involvement in public sphere activities. Participation in everything from

service clubs, the PTA, town meetings, and as we all know, the electoral

process, is down since the mid-60's. Television is the number one culprit,

as people have taken root in front of their home screens, privatizing their

leisure, as they take in the cultural messages, and the unlimited

commercials cajoling consumer-behavior for hours on end. Virtually every

program and every commercial take us far from our neighborhoods and

communities into a fantasyland of crime, comedy, passion, and consumerism.

Even the teriffic new cable channels offering arts and science programming

remove us from the communities where we live.

I have always conceptualized Public Access TV as a vehicle for civic

participation and community building. Long ago many of us in the field,

recognized the tremendous hurdle of video production which stands between

would-be communicators and the use of community television. To the extent

we could do so, with small staffs/budgets, we altered our infrastructures

to make public access TV much more accessible to those who did not deal

well with the challenge of recruiting a crew or going through production

training. We recruited studio crews for many groups. We set up

"Auto-Pilot" studios which require no crews. We set up intern programs and

sent the interns out into the community to record many events. We built

coalitions between sympathetic organizations, so that they could help each

other produce a program series.

While such changes have resulted in more usage of community access, they

have not undone the biggest hurdle of all; that is the cultural context

which we live in. For example, while there are numerous local preachers

who use our "Auto-Pilot Studio", it is a rarety when an individual uses it

to voice an opinion on a local issue. While part of the reason is a lack

of publicity about this resource, based on the outreach I've done to

encourage people to use it, I'm certain that many people have become

estranged from the practice of democracy. Another example: we are the only

outlet that televises debates for local offices like city council, sheriff,

county supervisors, and even State Assembly etc. Last November,on an

evening just before election day, we took a video projector and played the

candidate forums on a giant screen in a busy downtown plaza. There were

virtually no viewers, even though hundreds of people walked by. I doubt

that most of them had already watched the debates on our community channel.

I strongly urge that you impose public interest requirements on all the

broadcasters who received the spectrum loan from the public. These

requirements should include programming which promotes the practice of

democracy. Programming may include town meetings, candidate debates,

person-in-the-street interviews on issues, public service announcements,

documentaries, and many other formats. Broadcasters should be encouraged

to use their formidable resources to launch creative new formats that

encourage civic participation and awareness. There should be a particular

focus on local issues. While I strongly support the creation of a fund

(from a portion of the broadcasters' digital profits) which would also

benefit Public Broadcasting and Community Access Cable Stations, I feel

that until EVERY CHANNEL on television is utilized during a portion of

primetime, as a vehicle for citizen participation and civic awareness, that

the principles upon which our governance is based - the practice of

democracy - will continue to wither.

Elliot Margolies, Executive Director

Mid-Peninsula Access Corporation

3200 Park Blvd.

Palo Alto, CA 94306

phone: 650-494-8686 fax: 650-494-8386