Tonight, Asheville City Council will consider issuing a call for proposals, partnering with Buncombe County, for an outside group to provide “community media development” following the collapse of the WNC Community Media Center. However, the proposal does not specify that a public access television channel to replace the defunct URTV must be part of the deal, and the funding the governments provide would provide expires after three years.
The request for proposals emphasizes that the new group must have a vision for “building a media network and resources that are progressive and green, and one that places the power of new media in the hands of local citizens,” helping with workforce development, furthering the media arts industry and providing media education. This follows the city’s refusal to renew the media center’s contract to operate URTV, following the non-profit’s collapse amid a funding dispute with the county.
In return, the city and county will provide $30,000 each during the first year, $20,000 during the second and $10,000. After that, local government funding ends and the community media organization will have to be self-sustaining.
Notably, the RFP has no requirement for the group to operate a public access television channel, though the city’s Administrative Services Director Lauren Bradley, who’s overseeing the proposal, says that a channel might be part of a successful proposal.
“They [the city and county] feel that whole field has evolved so much since we got in the public access business that they wanted to expand the scope so there could be an opening for new models, creative models that could be considered for investment for this money,” Bradley said. “It’s not just limited to the provision of public access.”
What about the PEG funds — a fee collected from cable subscribers for government, education and public access channels — the city will continue to receive? A new public access channel could have access to those, Bradley says, but otherwise they’ll go to the city’s government channel, freeing up general fund dollars currently budgeted for that purpose.
The proposal doesn’t include URTV’s equipment, which the city has taken, because a full inventory remains unfinished.
“We’ve been working with the landlord, but right now we just don’t have a good inventory that we can put out there in a proposal,” Bradley says. “If the proposal accepted includes a public access channel or some other proposal that could make use of this equipment, we would negotiate to see how it could be best invested in the process.”
If Council signs off on it, the city will officially issue the RFP on July 1, with responses due by August 1.