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A2 Community Access Television: Use It!

A2 Community Access Television: Use It! image A2 Community Access Television: Use It! image
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Agenda Publications
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Lef est Galimore has long been concemed about issues facing African-Americans n our community. He used to come home from work daily and complain to nis wife about the problems he saw around him - problems he feit powerless to change. Finally, she convinced him that he needed a "soapbox" - a broaderforum in which to express his ideas. Galimore found his soapbox at Ann Arbor Community Access Televisión (AACAT). That was nearly five years ago. Since then, Galimore has produced and directed scores of shows. In April, 1 990 he began producing his first series, "New Directions." In the three years of the series' existence, shows focused on black issues - in particular, youth, leadership, cultural, and health concerns. Galimore, who works for Washtenaw County in Employment Training and Community Services, then turned to producing and directing a series called "The County Line." The shows were created by county employees, to inform the community about the various functions served by county government. That series ran from May, 1993 until recently and is scheduled to start back up later this f all. Galimore's latest effort is the direction and co-production of a youth program entitled "What's Up Ministry." In this show he has teamed up with religious worker Mark Graham, a young black man who combines rap-gospel music with the spiritual concerns of young people. "What's Up Ministry" will premier as a series around the first of next year. Through his work with AACAT, Galimore derives personal satisfaction. "I truly feel l'm doing something positive by providing people with nformation. It's especially gratifying when people say they've noticed and compliment something l've produced." For Galimore, however, the bottom line about AACAT is that "there is noothermedium in Washtenaw County for black people to communicate with each other." About Community Access Televisión This month, Ann Arbor Community Access Televisión celebrates 21 years of existence. AACAT is found on channels 8-1 1 , which are available to Columbia Cable subscribers in the Ann Arbor-Ypsilanti area. Three of the channels provide educational, public access and govemment programming, and the fourth is an interactive nformational system (see sidebar). AACAT staff consider their organization to be much more than a televisión station. They view it as a community voice, or "the electronic soapbox of the '90s." "This may come as a surprise, but Access televisión was never really about televisión," reads a front-page article in the December 1 993 edition of the AACAT newsletter. ".. .Access is about the empowerment of people to speak freely and openly in whatever manner available to them." It explains that through the establishment of nteractive televisión (AALINC) and the ONLINE bulletin board, both of which "give citizens the ability to access a range of technologies and Communications services," AACAT has become a "community media center." "There are going to be so many different ways for us to communicate in the future and who knows what they're going to be," commented Program Manager Lucy Ann Visovatti in an interview with AGENDA. "Our goal is to make sure that every single person, no matter what their ability or economie status, has access to these forms of communication. So whatever comes down the road, Access wants to be plugged in to that. One day we'd like to have computers available here so that people can come in and use them . We don 't know what shape the future's going to take with this technology, and we just want to make sure that whatever it does, the people have access to it." AACAT is the result of a franchise agreement between the city of Ann Arbor and Colum - bia Cable. When you pay your cable bilí, 5% goes to the city as a franchise fee. The city then uses this money to fund community access televisión. AACAT operates on a budget of about half a million dollars ayear. This money goes largely to fund equipment and services. Ten staff people - eight of them full-time - are responsible for the day-to-day operations of the station. Their efforts are supplemented by about 1 5 student interns and numerous volunteers. As we reported in last month's AGENDA, AACAT is the recent recipiënt of the 1 994 Community Communications Award for Public Access. This is the highest national award bestowed by the Alliance for Community Media, an organization representing 3,000 access centers acrossthe United States. AACAT was recognized for "consistently demonstrating outstanding achievements in overall performance, creative use of community resources, impact on the local community, ability to genérate diverse programming and public participation, and innovations in televisión production." How to Use AACAT The only requirement you must satisfy in order to particípate in AACAT, is to live in Ann Arbor or be a memberof an Ann Arbor nonprofit organization. There are various ways to get involved with programming at AACAT. The simplest ways are to particípate in Access Soapbox or Access Ann Arbor, as these forums require no training. On Access Soapbox you get a five-minute slot in which to expound on whatever topic you'd like. To reserve a slot on this program, just cali AACAT in advance of the taping, then come to the station - located above the Ann Arbor Fire Department on Fifth Ave. at Huron. Taping is done on Thursdays between 2 pm and 7 pm. Each new edition premiers the following Sunday and is replayed daily for that week. Access Ann Arbor is an expanded version of Soapbox, n which you get a 25-minute slot In this case, a reservation must be made from seven to 30 days in advance of an appearance. It also requires a pre-production meeting with a staff member at least three days prior to production. The show is produced live at 8:05 pm on Thursday nights. AACAT will provide a host or interviewer, if requested. You can be on Access Soapbox a maximum of once every three months and on Access Ann Arbor once every six months. Another easy way to getonaccess televisión is to bring in a tape.Anyvideoyou créate is fair game (tapes of wed - dings and birthday parties are popular). All tapes are aired on a first-come, first-serve basis, in time skts not reserved for ries or other pre-scheduled programs. The tape you bring n then belongs to AACAT and may be played as often as AACAT wishes. If you want to use AACAT's equipment and get involved in the creation of programs, you must attend a two-hour orientation session. This class covers the history and philosophy of AACAT and explains the schedule of production workshops. The next orientation dates are Monday, October 1 7 and Monday, November 14, both from 7-9 pm. Following completion of an orientation session, you may sign up for studio, camcorder, editing, or producing workshops. These workshops are each held monthly. In order to become qualified to produce shows, you must take the producing workshop and either the studio workshop (to be a studio producer) or the camcorder workshop (to take a camera into the field). You may then progress to the editing workshop. One option for those trained as producers is to launch their own series. There are currently about 30 series running on the public access channel (seesidebarforexamples). To establish a series, you must have at least four shows ready to air. A series may be weekly, biweekly or monthly. If you'd like a volunteer crew position for other people's productions.then you may take studio or camcorder workshops. Once you attend a workshop and become certified to opérate a certain piece of equipment, your name will be added to the list of volunteers (posted at AACAT). A show producer can then cali to request your services as a cameraperson or other assistant. Program Content AACAT prides itself on being "content neutral." Staff members do not pre-screen or censor any program ming. However, there are certain rules that must be followed. On submitting a tape to be aired, there is a form that you must read and sign. The "Application for tion" explains that programming may not contain: material that is defamatory or invades personal privacy; material that infringes on copyrights or trademarks; obscene material; material that advertises or promotes a commercial productor service; direct solicitationof f unds; or lottery information. Your signature on thatform constitutestaking legal responsibility for the program's content. While some of these rules are clear-cut, ers, suchas the one regarding obscenity, are not But AACAT isn't about to try to define obscenity. Accordingto Program Manager Visovatt', "The only way something wou ld be taken off(AACAT)for obscenity, would be if someonechallengedthepre- senter of the . tape and we were instructed by a court to do so." AACAT firmly believes in First Amendment protections, including that of "indecent" speech. AACAT stood behind a recent challenge to FCC regulations allowing cable operators to censor "indecent" programs. In November, 1993, the U.S. Court of Appeals in the Washington, D.C. Circuit, ruled those regulations unconstitutional. In their January, 1994 newsletter, AACAT reported: "The Court recognized the Constitutional protection of indecent speech, and further stated that Congress cannot 'deputize' cable operators to become censors." Asimilar standard appliestonudity. AACAT has aired arts programming involving nudity - the only rule is that it can't involve a minor. A programmer can indicate if subject material is "mature," in which case it will be aired after 1 0 pm. As for what constitutes "commercial product promotion," Visovatti explains it as follows: "You couldn'tcall Coca-Cola upand say, 'Would you sponsor my show and pay me big money and l'll put an ad in for you?' That's a commercial endorsement. Now if you happen to be wearing a Coca-Cola t-shirt on your show, that's a form of f ree speech. That doesn't matter. Anotherexample is, say you want to have an author on to talk about their book. That's fine. He or she can come on and discuss their book and why they wrote it and what it's all about. But you can't teil everyone it's available at Borders for $2.95. That's where you cross over the line." About solicitation of funds, Visovatti elaborates, "If you're a nonprofit group and you want to promote that you're having a fundraiser, that'sf ine. You just can't directly ask the viewer for money. You can teil them the date of the event, where it is, and why it's important that your organization raise money, but you can't directly ask for money on the access channels."


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