December 1, 2011

Over 1,200 Chicagoans Call on the City of Chicago to Secure the Future of CAN TV

On Thursday, December 1st the Committee for Media Access members delivered petitions with 1,236 signatures to City Hall.  And as of this writing, more petitions, with more signatures, continue to come in.

We are urging Mayor Emanuel to: 

1. Move immediately to enforce RCN’s public obligations, and
2. Establish citywide hearings for public input on cable refranchising and the future of CAN TV. 
Public hearings on CAN TV's future will help assure that Chicago's future cable system meets the community's needs and protects the public's right to speak.  Residents signing onto the petition spoke to the importance of protecting the public's space on cable.  Nancy Bechtol said, "CAN TV...promotes community participation in the best way of using TV, for the people!"

More comments can be seen here.

CMA's letter to Mayor Emanuel that was delivered with the petitions is included below.


June 23, 2011

Documentary Film Pioneer Gordon Quinn Tells Cable Commission: 'CAN TV's Integral to City's Media Matrix'

The following is from public comment given by Kartemquin Films co-founder and CMA member Gordon Quinn at the June 14th meeting of the Chicago Cable Commission.

I’m Gordon Quinn, co-founder of Kartemquin Films, which makes documentaries, like our most well-known film, Hoop Dreams. When I helped to start Kartemquin forty-five years ago, I was motivated by a desire to connect people to others’ lives and experiences by telling real and compelling stories. This has been my life’s passion.

For the same reason, I’m passionate about CAN TV, and helped form the Committee for Media Access. CAN TV gives people a chance to share their experiences and knowledge, creating bridges between Chicago’s diverse communities. Some folks say the Internet makes access television obsolete. This is wrong-headed not just because TV remains an incredibly popular medium, and not just because 40% of Chicagoans remain unconnected to high-speed Internet. But also because we still need affordable training, support, and equipment to make good video for any platform, and this is only equally available at a public access center like CAN TV. To date, CAN TV has trained 10,000 people in video production skills. Many people who get their start at public access go on to do work elsewhere in Chicago’s media matrix—some even find their way to Kartemquin! For these reasons, I regard CAN TV as one of the City’s top civic accomplishments in my lifetime.

And it didn’t happen by accident. I remember this, because I participated in founding CAN TV thirty years ago. At the time, I was a media activist, working with a huge, diverse coalition that partnered with the City to write the best cable law in the country. We focused on two principles: first, community channels should be funded by companies that use our rights of way, second, that the public’s channels must be free-standing, that is, managed independently by the community. The outcome was CAN TV.

With City and company support, CAN TV has developed into a trusted institution in Chicago. Two years ago, I was invited to be part of a panel convened by the City with Chairman Genachowski of the FCC on broadband technology and small business. I emphasized that when thinking about how any mass media technology is constructed and managed, we should take the lessons from CAN TV. CAN TV’s inclusiveness has cut across lines of race, class, and geography to strengthen the capacity and skills of community members and groups to communicate using video. To that end, I stressed the role of regulation in ensuring the same accessibility and inclusion of the public in broadband.

With the City’s current long-term refranchising of cable companies, we find ourselves at a historic crossroads for public access. Other cities have chosen polar-opposite directions.  The City of New York is standing firm for public access in all of the boroughs, with cable deals that ensure increased support and inclusive technology.  Dallas, on the other hand, abandoned the community and shut down its public access station.

When it created CAN TV, the City established the right of public participation in television. It was a great idea, and it has led to a great public institution, of which the Chicago can be rightly proud. With cable refranchising, beginning with RCN, the City can affirm the founding vision and values for CAN TV. I urge the City to do so, by ensuring that cable franchises provide strong community benefits agreements that protect and develop the public’s channels for the next generation of Chicagoans.


May 12, 2011

Committee Urges New Mayor to Support Public's Channels

Committee Member Phyllis Logan
On Thursday, May 5th, Committee members delivered a letter to Mayor-elect Emanuel's Loop headquarters. The letter urges the new mayor to stand with the public and endorse a strong new community benefits agreement from RCN to support CAN TV during the current RCN refranchising. We emphasized that CAN TV is both a national model for public access and also a bridge between Chicago's diverse communities. Along with the letter, we delivered a Benton Foundation study documenting that local government support was the critical factor in public access success or failure. To read the complete letter, see below or click here.


April 1, 2011

Connecting Youth & Community: The Spirit of CAN TV

Jeff McCarter
Founder & Executive Director
Free Spirit Media
The beauty of CAN TV is that it’s local, so you get local feedback. At Free Spirit Media, a youth media training organization, we value that interaction.

Since 2001, our youth have produced a show called HoopsHIGH that runs on CAN TV’s Channel 19 every Saturday from 8 to 10 PM (check it out!). HoopsHIGH features live-to-tape, multi-camera, announced coverage of local high school and park district sporting events. Besides the games coverage, HoopsHIGH serves as a youth journalism vehicle for Free Spirit Media. Students share the hundreds of public service announcements, documentary shorts, and news stories produced in our programs each year.

HoopsHIGH’s two hours represents just a sliver of the 150 hours of local original programming that are produced at CAN TV every week. That’s fifteen times more per week than Chicago’s second-place producer of local original programming, PBS affiliate WTTW.

Just about every day, a young person comes to our program with a story of someone on the bus, at the grocery store, or the like that saw his/her show on CAN TV. Generally, the student has heard encouragement for his/her young talent or gratitude for getting an untold story out. Sometimes s/he hears constructive criticism, like, “you need to enunciate more.” This engagement with the public is one of our greatest teaching tools because it demonstrates to our students that their work is being seen and has the power to impact their world—they know they are not alone.

CAN TV stands apart in its inclusivity. I began my media career in mainstream commercial TV and film production. After some years, I became dissatisfied.  I realized that many voices—whole communities—were being excluded, not just in coverage, but in the whole process of making media. Only part of America was on TV, and rarely was the coverage inclusive—on both the representation and producer sides.

So I decided to go a different direction. I founded Free Spirit Media to help give underserved youth an opportunity to make their own media. Rather than setting them apart, the work of our students connects them to their world. This vibrant exchange between producers and consumers—in the spirit of community, education, youth development, and grassroots communication—is the beauty of CAN TV. It is vital to Free Spirit Media's mission and vital to Chicago.


March 8, 2011

Public Access: Not For Sale

Grady Davis,
Committee for Media Access
A few years ago, Jay Leno interviewed John McEnroe, the old hot-tempered tennis pro, on “The Tonight Show”. Jay asked McEnroe where he’d been: “You don’t come around the media much.”

“Well,” said John, “I don’t need to. I’m not selling anything.”

In a recent survey 74% of Chicago cable subscribers say CAN TV is valuable to the community. What makes it so popular? Maybe it’s because—unlike commercial channels—nobody’s selling anything. And, unlike the evening news, public access doesn’t rely on fear to command an audience. Most people I’ve seen or met making shows at CAN TV are just like me—members of the public who are on a mission: to share an experience or solve a problem for the benefit of the community.

In my case, I’ve been on a double mission. For some time I was non-profit representative for the Tuskegee Airmen (Chicago Dodo Chapter). Through CAN TV I developed programming that allowed the Airmen’s historic legacy and present-day work to stay in the forefront of mass media.

On the personal side, I developed my own show. The mission of “Grady’s Notebook” has been to bring to the media as many positive things about the African-American community as possible. Producing the shows has opened the door to many continuing friendships including with Ronald Holt, an anti-violence activist, Hermene Hartman, CEO of Indigo Magazine, and Chuck Smith of Goodman Theater. Public access is where the public connects.

These experiences led me to help organize the Committee for Media Access. All my life I have rejected Big Brother speaking for me—whether it be politicians or corporations or even the church. I am determined to help protect the public’s channels here in Chicago and across Illinois. After seeing what’s happening in other cities, we can’t afford to take any chances. The interests of the public must be protected—without any compromise.

Along with my fellow Committee members, I’m here for the duration. Public access is essential to free speech. And in Chicago, free speech is not for sale.

January 20, 2011

Public Action

Budget Hearing Testimony
At the September 2010 preliminary City of Chicago budget hearings, committee members testified in support of City enforcement of CAN TV’s cable funding and independence. Mayor Daley responded by strongly committing to the City’s support of CAN TV.

Jake Austen Robbie Smith Grady Davis
Jeff McCarter Phyllis Logan Wanda Avila