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Effort to Dump Firm Managing Albuquerque’s Public Access TV Draws Heat

“The whole idea of public access TV is for the underprivileged to have access to a channel, but that’s been thrown aside.”

The City of Albuquerque, N.M. is moving to end its 30-year relationship with the public access production facility Quote-Unquote for the operation of a city public access station, in favor of a relatively new production facility— uPublicTV—to run the station, a move which has raised an outcry among some local viewers and advocacy groups.

Quote-Unquote officials say their bid of $270,000 to annually operate Albuquerque’s channel 27—one of two public access channels operated by the city—for the first year of a new contract is $117,000 lower than uPublicTV’s bid of $387,000 for that period, and $66,000 lower than uPublicTV’s bid of 336,000 for the second year of the contract.

However, on Oct. 28, 2011 an evaluation committee comprised of staff from Albuquerque’s legal and cultural services departments recommended the city accept uPublicTV’s bid. The recommendation has to be approved by Albuquerque’s City Council before uPublicTV can gain management of channel 27.

Nonetheless, the evaluation committee’s recommendation has Quote-Unquote’s leader crying foul. “If the city council accepts the recommendation, we’ll file a lawsuit,” said Steve Ranieri, Quote-Unquote’s executive director. “We believe the entire [bid] process was a farce, and the decision was made already,” he said, adding Albuquerque’s request for proposals was “a formality they had to go through.”

uPublicTV says it is a non-profit corporation, but their approach at channel 27 is to run it as a for-profit organization that plans to limit program’s content, and have the final say over which programs are broadcast, Ranieri said. “The whole idea of public access TV is for the underprivileged to have access to a channel, but that’s been thrown aside,” he said.

uPublicTV’s proposal says they “are not an advocate for commercial advertising on the station,” but it “will search for sponsors who will support the mission of the station” in much the same way as Public Broadcasting Stations.

Under uPublicTV’s control, channel 27 is going to look for sponsors for the programs broadcast over public access channels, Ranieri said. “The model they [uPublicTV] sold the committee is a standard commercial operation,” he said. “It’s the antithesis of access television and doesn’t have anything in common with public access television.”

However, Albuquerque’s city attorney, Robert Kidd, disputes that allegation, saying uPublicTV’s bid is for an operation management contract for channel 27, which is the same operation management that is currently underway. Quote-Unquote currently makes similar “programming decisions already,” and access to the channel is “almost on a first come first served basis,” he said.

In addition, Kidd said the amounts in uPublicTV’s operation bids are not final, but he did not say if those amounts would be decreased in a formal contract, or how much they would decrease, and that the committee considered more than the amounts when deciding on its recommendation. “Cost is only one element the selection committee looked at, it also looked at general approach and plan; experience; and finances and costs,” he said. “Those were value judgments the committee made on the six organizations that submitted proposals for channel 27,” he said. “Quote-Unquote scored third.”

However, Ranieri says that on the RFP grading sheets, under experience uPublicTV received scores close to Quote-Unquote, despite Quote-Unquote having 30-years experience running Albuquerque’s public access stations, while uPublicTV has not produced any broadcast content. For over a year, uPublicTV has had the Educational Access Channel, but has failed to activate any TV programming, according to Ranieri.

uPublicTV is primarily a marketing and public relations company, and “doesn’t have any experiencerunning a public access channel,” he said. uPublicTV is getting a station they can make PR and marketing pitches on, and “the committee doesn’t understand that’s not what access TV is suppose to be.”