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Cincinnati’s Media Bridges Works to Halt Complete Funding Cut

PEG channels work with elected officials on new appropriations plan

The funding for the organization that manages Cincinnati’s public and education cable television channels has been targeted for elimination from the city’s fiscal year 2013 budget, but the community broadcasters are working with city officials to get partial funding restored, and it is leading a public campaign urging viewers to show support for the channel by contacting local lawmakers.
Cincinnati City Manager Milton Dohoney cut the funding for Media Bridges, which has been providing the city with public and education cable television since 1989, from Cincinnati’s recommended 2013 budget. However, Dohoney preserved $700,000 to fund the municipal government’s access channel.
Nonetheless, Media Bridges is working with Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory and the city council to get partial funding of its annual operating budget—$498,000—restored, according to Tom Bishop, Media Bridges’s executive director.
The $498,000 to fund the operation has previously been drawn from cable franchise fees ($300,000) and directly from Time Warner Cable ($198,000), but that money will not be available in 2013 because under state law, all public, education and government channel funding ended on Jan. 1, 2012. In addition, cable operators and telephone companies can charge to transmit PEG channels.
When Media Bridges was informed about the funding cuts, the organization was told the amount allocated for 2012 “was just not do-able” for 2013, and that “we needed to come up with a less expensive proposal,” Bishop said. However, the city has worked out an amendment to the budget that appropriates $211,000 for Media Bridges for the next six months, in addition to a one-time capital payment of $50,000; but Bishop is concerned the amount will be inadequate.
If full funding is not restored, free services to the nonprofit community and the school district would be cut, and Media Bridges would charge for memberships, Bishop said. In addition, its activity would be limited to onsite training and management of the public and education channels, and even that would be more reliant on volunteers and automation because “we’ll be losing four staff members, three [full time employees] FTEs under that plan.”
However, the planned amendment allocating $200,000 for Media Bridges could change, according to Bishop. “I’ve seen things change in the absolute eleventh hour in the past,” he said, explaining the budget committee has scheduled appropriations hearings for Dec. 6 and 10. The committee is then scheduled to hold a work session Dec. 13, with a second planned for the morning of Dec. 14. The council is scheduled to vote on the proposal during the afternoon of Dec. 14.
“This is kind of a sad thing that’s happened in a lot of places across the country, where public and educational access are undermined, but government doesn’t seem to take any effects,” said Bishop, who added he respects and relates to the work done by City Cable because he previously managed a PEG channel. “Government access is great, but it’s part of a tripod. Without viable and well-sustained public and educational access, basically, what you’ve got is the equivalent of a city park that only city employees and elected officials can use. That’s just not the way that PEG was ever meant to work.”
Public and education access television has to be visible to elected officials, according to Bishop. “If those people don’t know your name, you’re starting from scratch any time you have a problem.” Therefore, as part of Media Bridges’ plan to be funded by the city, the organization is urging supporters to call council members and share why public and education access television is important to them, Bishop said.