Your browser is out-of-date!

Update your browser to view this website correctly. Update my browser now



Commentary: Local Governments Manipulate Public Access Channels

Public Access TV has its use, but it's often a sham.

I would like to add another perspective to what was said in Bunnie Riedel’s column in the December 2013 edition of Government Video.

I see public access channels and government channels as double-edged swords; they can be used to manipulate and propagandize just as well as being used for transparency and information.

Local governments like to use their cable channels to show only what they want the public to see. If they don’t want the public to see something, they don’t show it ― simple as that.

Bryan Olson

Very few city and county governments in Minnesota show all meetings. State law defines only three different types of meetings: Regular, Emergency and Special meetings, yet these governments have dreamed up other euphemisms, such as “work sessions” and “workshops” in order to bamboozle the public into thinking these are not real meetings, or are not as important. In fact, it is at these “work” meetings where plans are really hatched. Very few of these meetings are televised, and in my city they have the nerve to hold a 10-minute “business meeting,” then shut the cameras off and continue to talk for two more hours. The non-televised portion is called the “workshop.” They actually made a policy that “workshops” would not be televised, and did this with a straight face.

The televised meeting is just a choreographed presentation with a scripted outcome. To really make themselves look good, the council prays before the televised meeting gets started. I have never seen a council pray off-camera, it’s only when the cameras are on.

I think these points need to be made whenever it is said that government and the public access channels are an important factor in upholding democracy, transparency in government and the like. I think such cheerleading is half-baked.


A tiny percentage of elected officials want to see all meetings recorded or televised and truly believe in a transparent government. More than 99 percent think the opposite, and that is where their hypocrisy shows. They want to beat the drum, make the cable operators look like bad guys, make themselves appear to be champions of some kind, want to feel like big shots, yet they do not practice what they preach. I have yet to find an elected official or government staffer who really knows anything about video or broadcasting. Yet they want to make the cable operators the villain in a scenario that is keeping the city council meeting from being televised in HD.

If they would learn something about video, they might understand that the crappy equipment they installed in the city council chambers in the 1980s wasn’t any good when it was new. I have been complaining for years about poor quality of the various county and city government televised meetings, and no attempts are made to rectify. The cable franchisee should not entertain any talks at the bargaining table regarding HD until the governments and public access facilities show that they know what they are talking about and demonstrate they will put forth the investment necessary to carry out a complete upgrade to HD video capture. When the city halls are told what the bills will be to make this happen, the eyes will open wide.

How can anyone take these city governments seriously when their control rooms are still using 1982 Amiga character generators for simple super-imposed text and control of the video output?

How can anyone take city governments seriously when their systems use 25-year-old Leightronix controllers to start and stop a bunch of $59 DVD players, which are loaded with government meetings recorded at extremely low bitrates?

How can anyone take city governments seriously when their control rooms use the Panasonic MX-50 A/V Mixer, thinking this is a broadcast switcher? The scan converter being used is something they bought at Best Buy, and the list goes on.

How can anyone take elected officials seriously when they continually make sarcastic remarks about “all those thousands of people watching us right now” on cable television? If I hear this kind of talk just one more time during a televised meeting, I will have a screaming fit.

Either televise all meetings, or none at all. We would then be able to easily identify those with integrity from those who are posers. 

Bryan Olson is a video producer and writer in Roseville-Falcon Heights, Minn., which is part of the Twin Cities area. He has been a public access producer and has worked on a number of city hall television broadcasts over cable. Please leave a comment below if you would like to reach him or respond.