The P.E.G Revolution
And Why You Should Join Us
by Martin Anaya
PCT is the oldest Community Media Center (I.E. - P.E.G. center) in the United States. As such, we have won numerous awards and remain at the forefront of education on Community Media, setting many of the precedents that define P.E.G. as we know it. PCT has even hosted visitors from as far away as Ireland and Japan interested in learning about P.E.G. for the benefit of their home communities.
But What Is P.E.G.?
P.E.G. is short for Public, Education, and Government Access. A P.E.G. Center is a Cable TV station that produces Government and Educational content and facilitates programs made by the Public for Cablecast. In recent years, P.E.G. centers have expanded to teach Podcasting, Community Radio, and a host of other web-based communications services like the alternative Social Media Network you are reading from now. We also exist to help communities become more media literate. There are over 3,000 P.E.G. stations in the U.S. PCT is the oldest.
The "Golden Era"
So, how do we describe the value of P.E.G. given the current state of media? It may help to look at the past. Before cable or the internet, there was old-fashioned, 'over-the-air' broadcasting. Because everyone could get these signals, the Federal Communications Commission was chartered to require broadcasters to operate in the "Public Interest". Broadcasters were required to carry news and public affairs programming. TV's early years were punctuated with insightful programs like "Face the Nation" and Edward R. Murrow's "See It Now". Even the entertainment was educational, as in the 1957 re-creation of Orson Welles' "War of the Worlds" or programs like "Playhouse 90" and "Kraft Television Theatre". For 30 + years, this form of TV broadcasting reigned supreme.
The Private Network
With the 1980s came Cable TV, a completely paid "private network". This meant that cable broadcasters were not subject to the same rules as 'over-the-air' broadcasters. Gone were the FCC requirements. And cablecasters were quick to offer programming their audiences would enjoy, free from regulations. Over time though, it became clear that some of the public benefit was being lost.
A "Revolutionary" Idea
To address the lack of public interest programming on cable, the industry created C-Span, a non-profit corporation funded by cable subscribers to bring gavel-to-gavel coverage of the US Senate and House of Representatives proceedings, as well as other government affairs programs. This was advertised as radically transparent "Public Access" to the political process. According to authors Stephan Frantzich and John Sullivan, in their book, "The C-Span Revolution", the network revolutionized TV from pure entertainment to a method of unfiltered information delivery. Of course, the notion of TV as an educational medium wasn't so revolutionary to those who remembered history.
So perhaps C-Span is less a revolutionary idea and more a call back to an earlier time. Still, when Brian Lamb and friends invented C-SPAN, their mission of making government more available to its citizens was considered a radical idea.
A Local C- Span?
If C-Span is such a revolution on the national level, doesn't that concept deserve a local counterpart? Shouldn't we have a local community affairs channel? Well, we do! By federal law, Cable companies are required to carry P.E.G. channels for the local good. These channels are ALSO funded by cable subscribers through a special P.E.G. fee that appears on the bill and can ONLY be used for these services. Some communities have channels run by the local government. C-Span however, is independent. As such their coverage is both impartial and insightful in a way a government-run operation could never be. And on the local level, there is also a hunger for communities to see and hear their own concerns and stories, without filters. That's where stations like PCT come in; private non-profits, just like C-Span, charted to provide certain essential community benefits:
1) Creating a more transparent democracy
2) Allowing a forum for public views and opinions about the body politic
3) Creating community togetherness and opportunities to engage elected leaders
4) Creating space for local culture and art to flourish
The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution established our right to free speech as law. It fosters open debate, better political decisions, and, as Professor Lee Bollinger of Columbia Law School puts it, "social tolerance" that we all may be more accountable and civil to each other. However, the First Amendment was adopted in 1791. Fast-forward two hundred and many years and we again ask ourselves the question: "What is Freedom of Speech in the 21st century?" What does freedom look like in this electronic era? More importantly: "Who can speak?"
The Failings of Social Media
Of course, many people point to social media as a "fix-all" for modern society's communications needs. Trouble is, as recent events have shown us, Social Media is often populated by anonymous trolls, whose main goal is not to enlighten but to disrupt. As we've discovered, sometimes these are even state actors disguised as community members. Even more troubling is Social Media's "algorithm", which disproportionately weights voices of discord over discussion. Controversy over conversation. The negative effects of these networks on our mental health and well-being, particularly for our kids, have been well documented.
Big Media and the "Little Guy"
As the internet slowly begins to resemble TV, consolidation is happening at a rapid pace. Greater pressure is squeezing the common voice off of the Social Media space as companies increasingly adopt a "pay-to-play" model that limits an individual's ability to reach an audience while simultaneously using their data as a means of control. Privacy too, for all intents, is lost. To make matters even worse, local governments themselves have found it increasingly tempting to seize P.E.G. funds allocated to Community Media Centers and hasten the demise of public voices. All that said, at least Cable IS required to carry AND fund P.E.G. So local communities that want P.E.G. access, can still have it! In many parts of the country, P.E.G. is the only place where the common man or woman has a real, unfiltered voice.
Electronic Green Space
To be certain, the big media corporations will continue trying to retain the top real estate and squeezing the common voice off the basic cable spectrum. Yet, if we think of these companies as “developers” who use our public rights of way to build private businesses on public land, then we see P.E.G. as our electronic “green space”. And websites like this one you are on as alternative "Social Networks" where the emphasis is on community, not commerce. So just as real estate developers are required to establish parks and public amenities, so too are Cable Operators required to pay for P.E.G. services, per state and federal law.
Cable companies are licensed to operate by our state government to do a service for all of us. Requiring them to provide a space for local voices, just like C-Span at the national level, is the least we should expect as citizens. And it is our responsibility as citizens to protect that "Public Access". Think of all the local news, opinions, and culture that could be lost if we don't. For some communities, this is already a reality.
We Need a Revolution
Who can imagine cable TV without C-Span? It's heresy to even think it, right? Well, friend, that's the attitude we need in the P.E.G. world. We need a revolution to create a sea-change of greater awareness and freedom of speech with more voices at the table. As our country goes through election cycles, keep something in mind: Those in power profit when those without power have no voice. Conversely, all of society profits when all have access to unfiltered, real information, plus the ability to speak freely, regardless of our ethnicity, sexual orientation, or ability to pay. What we need now is a revolution, a P.E.G. revolution!
So how can you help? For starters, you can take our survey. Are these words I speak merely empty platitudes or do the services a P.E.G. center provides matter? Tell us what you think:
Soon PCT will be negotiating a new contract with our city. We'll find out if they also value what we do. Either way, we'll need your support. For now, please take this survey. And give us your contact info in case a public hearing is required.
YOUR VOICE COUNTS! So please, do what you can and help us grow this idea, this notion that ”Truth, Freedom, and independence in TV” (as my good friend Bruce Latimer calls it) really matters.
Questions? Want to help? Call us today: 650-355-8001