On Tuesday the Madison city council heard the plea of WYOU community television members to retain Public, Education and Government (PEG) fees needed to run the station. Like most media outlets, WYOU is having a hard time securing funding for the foreseeable future, but unlike most media outlets, there is a date when WYOU's funding will run out.
In 2011, WYOU, as well as all other public access stations in Wisconsin, will lose all PEG fees unless there is an overhaul of the budget that makes room for them. PEG fees come from cable subscribers. It's a built-in fee that the state government can route to programs as they see fit (in 2007, average PEG fees were 35 cents per cable subscriber per month). Most of the time, this money goes to public access television, but those days are numbered. On Tuesday, the council tabled the vote on WYOU's funding, not matching the urgency needed to keep public access' signal strong.
But what makes public access TV like WYOU so important? Often confused with American Public Media (home to Norm Abram and Jim Lehrer), many people think of WYOU and public access TV simply as places that would air a show like ""Wayne's World,"" which to some extent is true. But, according to WYOU Executive Director Barbara Bolan, the goal of the station is more about giving voice to the community. Today, we are faced with an overload of information. Much of this information is provided for free on the Internet, and not nearly enough of it focuses on the individual communities in which we live. I am consistently excited when a story about something in Madison pops up on Digg or another Internet community precisely because it's such rare occurrence.
Things shouldn't be this way. We should be consistently internalizing news that directly affects us. If we all become so distracted from the communities we will are physically a part of, then the communities will start to lose their integrity and we all begin to drift apart. WYOU helps to keep this community together by increasing the democratization of media. The entire concept of YouTube, as well as that of blogging and a good portion of Internet news, is based on a democratic media that was first championed at public access stations. On Tuesday, the members of WYOU brought up how most of the information we receive passes through the filters of corporations, a viewpoint that doesn't always put emphasis on community over profit.
In the film ""Manufacturing Consent,"" Noam Chomsky continually refers to ""necessary illusions."" These are the filters used to concentrate our reality and understanding of the world around us, used for ""marginalizing the public or reducing them to apathy in some fashion."" If we lose WYOU, we lose an ideal that much of our current Internet landscape is based on, the idea that there is a place for all of our voices to be heard in this world. Sure, some of the programming is weird. But it is also organic, original and spontaneous. It is a safe harbor for those of us who don't want to turn on the TV and see something that is contrived or forces us into a target market to try to sell us something.
But still, that doesn't mean there isn't room for improvement. In conversation, Bolan pointed out that any operation that receives most of its funding from one source really needs to evaluate its financial situation. The problem is that WYOU is already very fiscally responsible, only employing three full-time members and currently operating with a budget of around $200,000. Currently it is looking to diversify its funding, and this would only help to secure additional government dollars. WYOU also needs to remain progressive with its ideas. First, it gave voice to the community, and it will be exciting to see what it does for it next. Bolan referred to WYOU as an ""incubator"" of ideas rather than a distributor like YouTube. The educational component of WYOU really makes it an asset to the community, one of the WYOU goals being to train and educate the community so that we may all produce quality content, a window into our own little world.
During his visit Wednesday, writer and journalist David Eggers pointed out that good journalism is not free, and this can be extended to all media and information transmission. We should pay for the media we consume, but we should pay for it based on the way we consume it––democratically. The money we spend on media should go directly to the people producing it, rather than the corporations that dictate what it is we get to consume. It starts here with letting WYOU keep the PEG fees it rightfully deserves, so that it may keep our programming fresh and full of surprises.
Anthony Cefali is a senior majoring in biology. Please send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.