City of Atlanta Takes Over Public Access Station from People TV
With research by APN News Team.
(APN) ATLANTA – On March 10 or 11, 2022, the City of Atlanta Government took over the public access station known as People TV, Comcast Channel 24, in order to manage it while it decides what to do with the station.
The station has been managed for years by People TV, Inc., a nonprofit organization created by City ordinance, although the station has been in decline for years as it struggled without meaningful financial support, and lack of Board Member appointments, from the City.
“There was a time as Councilpeople we wouldn’t even come on People TV… We… had kind of boycotted People TV because it was rough over here. Yeah, we were being attacked,” then-Councilwoman Cleta Winslow (District 4) said on June 30, 2021, on a show, Wednesdays with Winslow, which Winslow hosted in 2021.
“The City provided an annual allotment of 180,000 dollars annually coming out of the General Fund. It’s important to note that their rent was nearly, close to eight thousand dollars [per month], and that didn’t include utilities,” LaNese Harris, Station Director for Channel 26, the City of Atlanta Government channel, told the City Utilities Committee of the City Council of Atlanta during its March 15, 2022 Meeting.
“So, only taking, only accepting an allotment from the City of Atlanta is not enough to allow public access to thrive, and it was on them to also do grant writing and collaborate with neighborhood partners to get more engaging funding to help them thrive,” Harris said.
“The Mayor’s Office and Channel 26 have significant concerns regarding content distribution, the lack of technical and program improvements, and fiscal transparency,” Harris said.
“After robust conversations in briefings, it was determined the best way to move public access forward, the City will begin transitioning People TV from its current structure to a Community Media Center,” Harris said.
“The Mayor’s Office of Communications and Channel 26 will operate the public access channel on an interim basis,” Harris said.
“What is most important for everyone to understand with this switch over is that we are not denying access to the public. Instead, the plan as we grow the Community Media Center is to increase access, improve quality, and expand education and training,” Harris said.
Currently, hand–picked community partners, who were invited by the City of Atlanta to submit content, are producing content for the station.
Eventually, the City is looking to identify a nonprofit organization to run the public access channel.
Since 1986, People TV, Inc. has been operating with a series of contracts–and sometimes without a written contract when one had lapsed–with the City of Atlanta.
People TV’s most recent one-year contract, dated March 09, 2021, to operate Comcast Channel 24, ended March 09, 2022, according to a copy obtained by Atlanta Progressive News.
People TV’s March 09, 2021 agreement with the City of Atlanta included options to renew the agreement for two additional one-year terms; however, the City of Atlanta chose not to renew the agreement.
This is not the first time the City has intended to take the public access channel away from People TV, Inc.
As previously reported by APN, the last time the City issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) to manage the station, it was under the Mayor Kasim Reed Administration in 2017.
The City received three proposals, and selected D. Jones, a sole proprietor, to run the station, only to later determine that Jones lacked the capacity to run the station. The City then, left with no options and no back-up plan, went back to People TV to renew their contract.
It is unclear what will make this RFP different from the previous RFP.
People TV received no advanced notice that their contract would not be renewed and were surprised by the announcement, as were Councilmembers.
“So, Ms. Harris, you know that People TV has a lot of history. And it really, really would have been respectful and would have been helpful if you all had met with this entire body before these decisions were made,” Councilwoman Andrea Boone (District 10) said at the Meeting.
“I just implore you all in the future to respect members of this entire body. We were bombarded with calls… We had not received anything in writing, nor had we received this presentation,” Boone said.
“I implore you. Because we have folks that elected us and they’ve been calling regarding this. In the future, in the future, please respect this entire body, please, because we have to answer to the residents that elected us,” Boone said.
“People TV has a lot of rich history: the late Hosea Williams; my father, the late Joseph E. Boone. In some ways this was the only way they could get their message out to their constituents. So please respect the Atlanta City Council,” Boone said.
“Now, they have taken the Channel from us. They did not renew our agreement. So, first on my list, I would like to know, the Mayor’s lobbyist told our people the Mayor signed an Executive Order not to renew our agreement. I have not been able to find a copy of that and I would like that,” People TV General Manager Patricia Crayton told the Full Council in public comments on March 21, 2022.
Crayton wore overalls in an apparent tribute to former public access producers like the late-Rev. Hosea Williams and the late-Rev. Ben Stelmacher, who also frequently wore overalls to social movement activities.
“People TV is just [as] uninformed as the Council was,” Crayton said.
Crayton said the City is in the same position today as it was in 2017 when they put the public access channel out to bid.
“As you found out, whoever they awarded to did not have a facility or equipment to run [sic] public access channel for the City, the same situation Lanese Harris is in today, as we’ve served this City for over 35 years,” Crayton said.
Former Atlanta City Councilman Jabari Simama (District 3) told Atlanta Progressive News that he recalls brighter days of public access in Atlanta.
Prior to serving on the Atlanta City Council, Simama was the station manager for the Center for Community Television, the predecessor to People TV, from 1980 to 1986.
“We had five fully operating studios that we called Community Access Centers, and each center had a staff of two people, so that was a staff of ten. Then we had a central staff – we probably had in total fifteen, sixteen, seventeen full-time employees,” Simama said.
“It was fully funded. In addition, each Center had two or three portable packages, lights and cameras and tripods, where any member of the public could check out the equipment. just like the library,” Simama said.
“We were kind of the leader in the nation and other cities kind of piggybacked on what we did and had,” Simama said.
“It looks to me like there’s been a tremendous lack of funding over the years for whatever reason. One of the biggest problems – it doesn’t have the funding it needs to be what it was when the institution was in its original conception,” Simama said.
“I don’t know why the City is temporarily taking it over, but ultimately you have P.E.G., which is Public, Educational, and Government Access. The government has the government channel, the education system should run the education channel, and the public should run the public channel,” Simama said.
“It is my desire that if, for whatever reason the City has temporarily taken it over, that it move expeditiously to correct the issue of funding and that it get the station back into the hands of the public as soon as possible,” Simama said.
“If the Cable Television Advisory Board doesn’t exist, it may be time to reinstate it. The City may want to take a look at the historical role of it,” Simama said of a citizen-led oversight committee that was later merged into the People TV Board.
“If such a board were recreated, it would be such a valuable resource… that there is a citizen voice in this process [to make sure]… that the City is carrying out its franchise mandate for oversight, that the City is carrying out its responsibility under the contract,” Simama said.
APN hosted a weekly show on People TV, Atlanta Progressive Views, for one season in the Fall of 2019, but was unable to continue the program due to technical obstacles involving an equipment upgrade.
(END / Copyright Atlanta Progressive News / 2022)