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.

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